Honeysuckle’s ‘diva’ tendencies and how going cross-country brought Grand National runner-up to life: meet Henry de Bromhead’s Irish superstars

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  • As Henry de Bromhead’s travelling head lass Zoe Smalley says about the stable’s superstars, “they’re horses people dream of standing next to for a selfie”. Champion hurdler Honeysuckle, champion chaser Put The Kettle On, Grand National winner Minella Times and Gold Cup winner Minella Indo are just some of the Co. Waterford residents setting the racing world alight right now. But what are they like to look after? Zoe gives us the lowdown…

    HONEYSUCKLE: “She is a pure diva! But you have to tolerate it. She’ll eye you up and will make a split second decision whether she’s going to bother speaking to you or just carry on her business – she’s very particular about the company she keeps! She can be fairly lively with her back legs, too. But what a moment it was when she won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. There had been so much hype, so much talk about Honey and if it hadn’t gone right, the rest of the week wouldn’t have been so fun. But when she came up the hill to win, the whole team was cheering – and the pressure was off.”

    BALKO DES FLOS: “He’s the yard servant, he’s so easy to deal with and everyone loves him, he’s so funny. Cross-country schooling is how he came to life for the Grand National, where he finished second to stable-mate Minella Times. In the winter when it can be a bit quiet in Ireland, Henry said he wanted to go cross-country schooling to give the older horses a bit of variety. They were just jumping over 80-90cm logs and trotting through water – the things Henry’s 10- and 12-year-old children were jumping on their ponies – but Balko just came alive, he absolutely loved it! Plan Of Attack was there, too, and he was jig-jogging and pointing his toes like a dressage horse all the way home. He’s such a quiet horse at home, but he was delighted with himself that day. I think it was madness Balko was ever 150-1 for the Grand National – he thought he was the absolute cheese after doing a bit of cross-country.”

    PUT THE KETTLE ON: “The first rule you learn when you go into racing is not to have a favourite and the first rule you break is finding a favourite, it just happens! I love them all, but Put The Kettle On has given me some great days. However, there isn’t a word you can print to describe her – she’s so hot and really is a handful! It’s a good job she’s so talented on the track… But when you break her exterior wall and have an understanding with her, she’ll settle down. She spends her life outside in her woodchip area rather than in her stable. I particularly admire how tough she is. I brought her over on my own for the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November and Aidan Coleman said afterwards that he’d never ridden a winner at Cheltenham and only heard one person screaming! I was shouting ‘Come on, Aidan!’ and he said he was thinking ‘I’m coming Zoe!’ In that moment, the only people on the planet were me, Put The Kettle On and the Paul Nicholls-runner Duc Des Genievres and she was so tough to get to Duc Des Genievres and win. She literally jumps up onto the truck – she just loves going places.”

    A PLUS TARD: “He’s so good – Henry’s daughter leads her across the yard and he loves her. He’s an absolute gentleman. I led up A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, but I didn’t know who to shout for with Minella Indo there too going up the hill — I just wanted them both to get over the line! I absolutely bawled after, I was a mess. We’d never lost faith in Minella Indo, I just felt he never liked Leopardstown, it’s a real specialist track I think. A Plus Tard on the other hand loves it there, as does every single one of Willie Mullins’ horses, it’s funny.”

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    MINELLA TIMES: “He’s such a dude – so easy, so placid, nothing fazes him. He and Minello Indo are legends, so good. Laura Hoey rides him at home and it was only by circumstance that she lead him up at the Grand National. Her family live in Liverpool and she wanted to spend time with them so Henry said she could work Aintree. She was absolutely overwhelmed after Minella Times won – Rachael Blackmore threw a bucket of water over her! She was just in a whirlwind of a dream when she found herself at the end of a leadrope with the Grand National winner on it.”

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