Rachael Blackmore made racing history as she became the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham with victory on Honeysuckle.
The Irish rider coolly guided the 11-10 favourite to win by six and a half lengths for trainer Henry de Bromhead.
It was an 11th successive victory for the unbeaten mare, and a landmark win for her 31-year-old jockey.
Last year’s runner-up Sharjah was second again, with the 2020 winner Epatante in third.
“Absolutely incredible. I am speechless to be honest. I really am,” said the delighted winning jockey, who hails from Killenaule in County Tipperary.
“I can’t believe we just won the Champion Hurdle. Incredible. Unbelievable for everyone in the yard, they all work so hard.
“It doesn’t matter what you are. We are jockeys. It is just a privilege to be here.”
Despite the meeting being held without spectators, Honeysuckle and her jubilant rider were given a rousing reception into the winner’s enclosure by those in attendance.
Racing was seeking a lift after trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Rob James were both banned following posts of them sitting on dead horse were shared on social media, and the Festival’s opening day served up some thrilling performances.
Appreciate It was a 24-length winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle while Shishkin won the Arkle Chase by 12 lengths and veteran Vintage Clouds took the Ultima Chase.
Meanwhile, the 80-1 outsider Jeff Kidder caused a shock in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, while Denise ‘Sneezy Foster – who has stepped in for Elliott during his suspension – had her first Festival winner, with Black Tears in the Mares’ Hurdle.
Galvin, who moved from Elliott’s yard to Ian Ferguson, won the concluding National Hunt Chase.
Blackmore was second in the Irish jockeys’ championship last year and is leading a new generation of jockeys in a sport where women compete on equal terms against men.
The victory comes less than three months after Bryony Frost claimed another historic jump racing triumph – on Frodon in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
And in flat racing, Hollie Doyle finished third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award after a record-breaking year.
There could be more to come. Blackmore also has a leading chance in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup on Honeysuckle’s stablemate A Plus Tard while Frost rides Frodon in the big race.
How the Champion Hurdle unfolded
Honeysuckle – winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle under Blackmore in February – had been well backed in the build-up to the race and travelled smoothly through the two-mile contest while others experienced trouble.
Abacadabras was a faller at the third flight and Goshen, who dramatically unshipped jockey Jamie Moore at the final obstacle when leading in the Triumph Hurdle last year, lost his chance as he took a keen hold and hung to the right on a wide route.
Blackmore produced her mount to lead between the final two hurdles and she bounded up the hill to leave her rivals trailing.
“It was unbelievable. She’s a very laid-back, chilled out mare – she’s amazing,” said De Bromhead, who is based in Knockeen, County Waterford.
“Rachael is a brilliant rider on any horse and Honeysuckle is just a brilliant horse.”
‘So special to be watching on’ – reaction
Ex-Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey Katie Walsh on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra:“Absolutely brilliant. I just think it is brilliant. She deserves this so much. She works hard and it is history.
“I am delighted for the person she is and she is a credit to the sport and a fantastic jockey.
“She has brought it to another level. It is great and so special to be watching on.”
Former jump jockey Charlie Poste: “I think it is a joyous day for racing. Seeing these achievements – Rachael Blackmore is as good as any jockey right now and the partnership with Honeysuckle is a joy to behold.
“This is a story that highlights all that is good in our sport.”
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