Honeysuckle won the BARONERACING.COM Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse for the second successive year – but she was clinging on in the final strides.
Henry de Bromhead’s hugely talented mare was stretching her unbeaten record under Rules to nine -which includes five Grade Ones – yet she was made to pull out all the stops by Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Ronald Pump.
Rachael Blackmore always had Honeysuckle in the perfect position, just behind the leader Cracking Smart.
The 4-11 favourite was in front early in the straight, with Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge looking her main challenger.
Honeysuckle got in a little close to the second last, allowing Beacon Edge to close, but the mare hit top gear and flew the last, seemingly putting the race to bed.
However, Ronald Pump, racing over a trip arguably short of his best, began to make ground rapidly under Keith Donoghue and was closing with every stride.
The line came just too soon for him, though, and Honeysuckle held on by half a length – with Beacon Edge back in third and Bacardys fourth.
Sky Bet, Paddy Power and Betfair all make Honeysuckle 3/1 to repeat last season’a success in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next March.
De Bromhead said: “She’s brilliant and tough. They sprinted up the straight and she had a little blow at the third-last so she’ll come on for the run.
“They were hard at it down to the last, she toughed it out well. It was a tough race but I’m delighted.
“First run since March so it is hard, you want to have them as straight as you can without overdoing it. It’s great we’ve won it and we’re delighted.
“I think we’re planning on the PCI Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February and then we’ll see, we’ll reassess after that. She’s got plenty of pace and she can do anything really.”