HONEYSUCKLE maintained her unbeaten record with a fabulous performance under Rachael Blackmore to land the Unibet Champion Hurdle in brilliant style on the opening day of the Festival.
It was a tenth consecutive victory for the Queen of the turf who sprinted away from her rivals off the home turn for a hugely popular victory. There were five Irish winners on the day with Paul Townend landing the opening race on Appreciate It.
But this day truly belonged to Rachael Blackmore who was creating history. Her rise has been phenomenal and her talent delivered on the biggest stage of all.
"I'm kind of speechless to be honest the first female rider to win the race. I really can't believe we've just won the Champion Hurdle. Henry produces her at her best every time and it's just phenomenal. She's still getting better," Blackmore said.
It was a brilliant performance by the winner and the Dingle rider completed a double with a gutsy victory aboard Galvin in the National Hunt Chase.
Trainer Noel Meade was also on the score sheet with Jeff Kidder who was returned at 80/1 in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Sean Flanagan forged a mighty effort from his mount to deny Paul Townend on Saint Sam who went off the 9/2 favourite.
Vintage Clouds had given the bookmakers a breather in the third race when he beat Happygolucky in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Cork man Joe Donnelly was celebrating after Shiskin justified his prohibitive odds when taking his winning streak to seven with an easy victory in the Arkle Challenge Trophy.
A brilliant winner of the supreme a year ago Shiskin is unbeaten in four races over fences.
It was a seventh win in the race for Nicky Henderson who has won it in the past with brilliant horses like Sprinter Sacre, Altior and Simonsig.
The 4-9 favourite was always travelling well in the hands of Nico de Boinville, as Allmankind and Captain Guinness made it a true-run race over the two miles.
Shishkin joined the two leaders at the third-last fence, setting sail for home and going on to score by 12 lengths in the colours of Donnelly who also owns Al Boum Photo the Gold Cup favourite.
“We’d always hoped to win like that, but you never expect it. It was strange, it will be all week without the crowds, but it doesn’t make it any easier watching them," Henderson said.
“We’ve had great days here in this race, Sprinter Sacre, then Altior followed him and it’s a shame he’s missing this week, but it’s extraordinary to find another.
"He looked as good as the other two did in this race today. He’s got a long way to go to match them, but you had to be delighted with what he did today and for the Donnellys.”
Appreciate It lived up to his pre-race billing as he powered to victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The 8-11 favourite, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend, outclassed his seven rivals with a dominant display in the Festival curtain-raiser.
It was the start the Irish hoped for with Appreciate It coming home 24 lengths clear of the opposition to give Mullins a seventh success in the race.
“It’s a great start to the meeting. I couldn’t believe that he won so easy. Things were looking a bit tough rounding the last bend in Leopardstown (last month) and we were wondering whether he’d left his best performance of the year there (at Christmas), so we just brought home and freshened him up and it seems to have worked," Mullins said.
On future plans, he added: “At the start of the season I had him down as a Ballymore horse or an Albert Bartlett horse if that failed, so here I am after winning three Grade Ones over two miles with him — I’m probably the last person to ask where we’ll be going next season!
“I thought he could possibly be an Arkle horse. I never envisaged him as a Champion Hurdle horse and I think we’ll just leave that until after we go to Punchestown.
"I’ve always had chasing in mind for him, but then I always had chasing in mind for Faugheen, so we’re back to the same argument. I’ll have a word with Michael Masterson (owner) and the team at home.”