When Honeysuckle debuted back in April 2018 at Dromahane in a mares maiden over 3m, her 15-length win was the start of a labour of love.
Purchased for just €100k at Goffs Punchestown sales, Henry De Bromhead’s most prized of assets has gone on to earn over 13 times that amount.
To be exact, £1,359,885 million.
So good was Honeysuckle, few thought she would ever be beaten and until last year there were few signs to the contrary.
Like all that compete on Cheltenham week, some legacies will continue whilst others begin their own odyssey.
For Honeysuckle, this year will be the final chapter of an epic saga.
Though this year may have seen her unbeaten streak ended, can this most wondrous of mares still ride off into the sunset in a blaze of glory?
Honeysuckle: A Cheltenham legacy
In what will be her fourth pilgrimage to Gloucestershire, Honeysuckle has known little else than how to climb the hill and win.
Taking her bow at Cheltenham in 2020, Honeysuckle arrived at the festival 8-0 and edged out Willie Mullins’ 4/6f Benie Des Dieux in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.
Then moving to double figures unbeaten, she returned a year later to claim her first Champion Hurdle.
The last time Cheltenham came into view, it was 15-0 and sure enough, a 16th win came with a handsome victory over Epatante in retaining the crown.
Quite simply with Rachael Blackmore in tow, Honeysuckle was relentless.
A first defeat
However, winning the Punchestown Champion Hurdle a month later would prove the end of the run.
This season has brought a statistic not familiar on these – or any other – shores; defeat.
Third in the Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse back in December, Honeysuckle was then edged out again by a burgeoning State Man at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
That forced the hand of owner Kenneth Alexander.
Whilst State Man will now face-off with Constitution Hill for Honeysuckle’s two-year crown, some punters have lamented not seeing a three-way fight.
But reality has told a different story.
Mares’ swansong glory?
Now close to 10-years-of-age, Honeysuckle just doesn’t have the final kick in her arsenal.
Perhaps then, it is almost fitting that Blackmore and her trusty steed go into battle for very possibly the final time where it all began: The Mares’ Hurdle.
Without a doubt, it has been tough year for both horse and jockey.
In the case of a certain 33-year-old from County Tipperary, back in 2021 the world was Blackmore’s oyster.
The first-ever female jockey to the win the Grand National aboard Minella Times, she also won Leading Jockey at Cheltenham that same year.
Champion Hurdler with Honeysuckle for the first time in 2021, last term brought more uncertain times but her mount was always the sure thing 12 months ago.
But that is not the case this year.
With the duo coming into this contest with successive losses, Blackmore also comes into the festival without a single winner in over a fortnight.
In many ways, there may not be much riding on one final race; and yet in so many others, the stakes are huge.
But taking a second Mares’ win will be no easy task and Marie’s Rock will be in no mood to step down from the throne, nor will a still-improving Love Envoi.
However, for such a grand horse not to bow out with a win at Cheltenham would be close to a travesty.
It is sure to be an emotional occasion, not only for horse and rider but for the De Bromhead clan after their own personal tragedy last year.
After a career the very definition of storied, can Honeysuckle add the gold standard and go four-for-four at Cheltenham?
If she does, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.