Though The Glanvilles Stud is teeming with foals, March could only belong to Doug and Lucy Procter’s most famous mare
Many column inches have already been written about Honeysuckle and her triumphant return to the Cheltenham Festival in mid-March; Doug and I bred her here at The Glanvilles Stud, so please forgive me an indulgent recap for readers.
Having won an unprecedented 16 races in a row since her debut Irish point-to-point win in April 2018 – including 12 Grade One victories and more than £1m in prize money – Honeysuckle started this season owing nothing to anyone.
As had been customary in previous years, Honeysuckle’s first run was to be in the Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in Ireland, having a crack at her fourth win in this particular race.
Sadly though, Honeysuckle’s crown slipped. She was beaten into a close third on the line; and followed it up in February coming second in the Grade One Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Age appeared to be finally catching up with the nine-year-old mare, and I for one was wishing that Honeysuckle’s connections had retired her at the end of the previous season.
I feared that, having been lauded as the Queen of National Hunt racing with her unblemished record, she might now just quietly slip away into Kenneth Alexander’s broodmare band, having lost her crown.
March dawned and Honeysuckle was declared to run in the Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival – which she had previously won in 2020. Despite a stellar field of other mares, including the two-year younger Love Envoi, trained by Dorset’s own Harry Fry – who had last year won the Grade Two Cheltenham Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, it was anyone’s guess which mare might return victorious. The betting public held faith in Honeysuckle, however, as her starting price showed in a 9/4 joint favourite with the winner of the 2022 race, Marie’s Rock.
What a race it was!
Honeysuckle rewarded her fans handsomely. She strode into Cheltenham like a champion. She settled in her stable, she ate up, she cantered in the morning, and before the big race she marched around the parade ring with the supreme confidence of a victor who had come home.
From the off, Honeysuckle quickly settled into a customary second place, sitting behind Love Envoi whom she tracked throughout until she was asked to quicken going into the home straight. She responded to the urging of her jockey, Rachel Blackmore, and, in a battle royal up the run-in, she got her nose in front on the line.
Racing commentators have dubbed this as the best mares’ race ever run. Coming back from two defeats, Honeysuckle crossed the line with every bit of her heart firmly intact, ears pricked and showing all her old grit and determination to win. She would not be denied victory, Rachel would not be denied victory, and they returned to a hero’s welcome.
Standing in the parade ring, Doug and I could track her progress from the course by the cheering from the crowds even when she was still the other side of the grandstand. As she approached the winner’s enclosure the crowd let out a triumphant and deafening roar, in a reception that brought tears to our eyes.
Honeysuckle’s story does not end here. As she retires from the racecourse, her breeding journey is just beginning. With connections suggesting a cover by the stallion Walk in The Park in the offing, all in racing are looking forward to seeing the arrival of the first Honeysuckle foal next spring.
Meanwhile, in Dorset …
Back here at the stud, the three mares that were imminent in last month’s column duly foaled on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, just before Cheltenham Festival, enabling Doug and I to enjoy two days’ racing with both of us having had a full night’s sleep! With another two mares foaling at the end of the month, we now have lots of new foals on the ground – and it was with great delight that The BV’s own photographer supreme Courtenay bolted out to the stud a few days prior to publication, to indulge himself in a few foal cuddles. It’s an obvious hardship he endures in order to photograph the latest arrivals. Tough work if you can get it!
For all who have followed her, Honeysuckle’s story ended in a fairy tale, but it was especially poignant for her connections for whom the 2022/23 season had started so tragically. Honeysuckle’s trainer, Henry de Bromhead, lost his beloved young son Jack in a pony racing accident in the summer. The racing world had rallied closely round the family and, in the end, buoyed up by the support, triumph won over adversity.
From a breeder’s perspective, Honeysuckle’s story is as good as it gets. Although we are hoping more Grade One winners will follow in coming seasons, it is unlikely that there will ever be another Honeysuckle from this or any stud anytime soon.