A penny for the thoughts of the modest crowd who went to the point-to-point at Dromahane on April 22nd 2018. There would be no Henry de Bromhead on the race card, nor would there be Rachael Blackmore in the saddle, but they could not fail to have been impressed by the performance of one winner, a mare named Honeysuckle. A 15-length victory was a very emphatic way to announce your arrival on the scene, but could the crowds have imagined that four and a half years later Honeysuckle would still not know what it means to lose?
Sixteen consecutive wins came thereafter, giving Honeysuckle a 17 for 17 record when including pointing. The crowds were probably impressed, but it’s sometimes not easy to recognise that you are witnessing the birth of a superstar. Similarly, just over three weeks earlier at Inch, a certain Shishkin was running in a point-to-point. He wasn’t even favourite in the horse racing odds on the day – that honour went to 7/4 shot Kiltealy Briggs – and perhaps rightly so, because Shishkin put on an unremarkable performance to finish third from six runners.
Of course, we know that Shishkin went on to become one of the best middle-distance chasers of the 21st century soon after. His record is not unblemished like Honeysuckle’s, but the horse, who is trained by Nicky Henderson, was soon setting the world alight. He won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2020, switched to fences and took the Arkle in 2021. Of course, he was also part of the big showdown with Energumene in 2022. Shishkin took first blood at Ascot, winning the Clarence House Chase in one of the best races you’ll see this year. The pair then lined up for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham 2022, with Energumene pulling out the victory and putting an end to Shishkin’s incredible run of form.
Speaking of Energumene, he made his P2P debut just a few months before the aforementioned pair, tackling a cold January day at Larkhill. Unlike the other two, though, there was less of a sense of the unknown, a buzz about the horse before the race, who went off as the even-money favourite, and a lot more after. His debut victory wasn’t as emphatic as Honeysuckle’s, but there was a classiness to it, that sense of assuredness that only the best horses demonstrate. But once again, would the crowds know that they were watching a future Champion Chase winner? Perhaps a few wily punters would have spotted the signs.
Still, it’s interesting to think that these three superstars, three horses for whom much of the focus went on at Cheltenham 2022, and who will be lauded as returning heroes in 2023, all made their pointing debuts within weeks of each other. It’s part of the magic of P2P racing that we can watch these runners take their first steps on the road to greatness. When Honeysuckle finally does taste defeat, or if, as we’d all like to see, she retires as unbeaten, you can be sure there will be some who remember from that first day at Dromahane; someone will say, “I was there when it all began”.