A warm welcome to another Cheltenham Festival Preview in this edition I’ll be taking a look at both of the mares races the Mares Hurdle and Mares Novices Hurdle. The mares races have been dominated by the Irish in recent years at The Festival with Willie Mullins taking the majority of renewals, Quevega was perhaps his most famous winner of the race a wonderful mare that won the race an astounding six times. One of the most infamous renewals in recent times was the 2015 renewal of the race where hot favourite Annie Power came down at the last,also trained by Willie Mullins she was on the cusp of bringing in a four timer on the first day of The Festival for the Closutton King which would of cost the bookies millions. Last year’s renewal was also won by Willie Mullins as the Ricci owned Benie Des Dieux lowered the colours of the odds on favourite and 2017 winner Apple’s Jade. Onto the Mares Novice Hurdle and this race was only introduced to The Festival in 2016 and all three renewals of the contest since have been won by Willie Mullins, the trio from Closutton include Limini, Let’s Dance and Laurina, the latter now likely to go on and compete in the year’s Champion Hurdle.
(Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m 4f)
Tuesday 12th March 2019
The Mares Hurdle is a Grade 1 affair that takes place on the first day of The Festival and it’s a race that’s contested over a distance of two miles and four furlongs.
This year’s renewal see’s last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux (6/5) make her seasonal reappearance here in an attempt to retain her crown. In true ‘Quevega Style’ she comes here having not been seen since the Punchestown Festival of last year where she got the better of Apple’s Jade for a second consecutive time. She’s been touted by many as the ‘Mullins Banker’ of The Festival which reflects in her price where she’s as short as even money in places. A lot of her main dangers in the betting are her stablemates from Closutton with 2016 Mares Novice winner Limini (6/1) currently holding down the position of second favourite at a general 6/1. She was last seen when finishing a solid fourth in the Galmoy Hurdle behind Presenting Percy when travelling strongly throughout the contest. That’s probably the best bit of form on offer here and she’ll be a popular each way bet with punters. Another Mullins runner who’s set to take her place here is Stormy Ireland (13/2), she was last seen when finishing second behind Laurina within Listed company at Punchestown. She’s a talented front runner who like Limini will be a popular each way selection with punters.
The Dan Skelton trained Roksana (10/1) looks to head the home challenge on the back of a very progressive season, she won a Grade 2 Handicap throughout the winter and has since gone on to finish second behind Santini and third behind Buveur D’air. The race will likely cut up so her current odds of a best priced 10/1 may seem very big on the day. Another solid home runner comes in the form of the Fergal O’Brien trained Cap Soleil (25/1). She hasn’t been seen since finishing second behind Laurina in the Mares Novice race at last year’s festival which is form that has been given an obvious boost considering that opponent is now lining up in a Champion Hurdle. She’s a well regarded sort who could well prove to be very big at 20/1 if she lines up here, she’s never been out of the top two. One of my favourite horses in training this season has been Phillip Kirby’s Lady Buttons (16/1), she’s won all four of her starts this term including two Listed affairs and a Grade 2 the last day at Doncaster. Her participation is pretty up in the air at the moment however as she also has an entry in the Champion Chase which connections have been fairly vocal about being her preferred destination. That being said she would be a huge contender should she turn up here.
“The Mares Hurdle looks to revolve around last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux, Ruby Walsh was on record saying that it doesn’t bother him at all that she hasn’t had a run this season and went on to draw the comparisons to Quevega. It was her last performance at the Punchestown Festival that really took my eye and impressed the most when she once again got the better of Apple’s Jade in very taking style. If putting in that level of showing again here she will be very tough to beat. On this season’s form I think Roksana is one that can run a big race and put in a bold bid to make the frame. As stated in the overview of the race she has ran big races behind Santini and Buveur D’air this term which is some of the best form on offer here. I think Cap Soleil is a big price and wouldn’t put anyone off backing her at 20’s, the lack of a run might be a concern for some but she has proved that she can go well fresh in the past. That being said it’s tough for me to see Limini out of the placings here, granted she doesn’t always run to the best of her ability but on all known form she should really be making her presence felt. She returned to form last time in the Galmoy when running a cracker in fourth behind Presenting Percy and that is very solid form.”
1st: BENIE DES DIEUX (6/5)
2nd: ROKSANA (10/1)
3rd: LIMINI (6/1)
WIN: BENIE DES DIEUX (6/5)
(It’s hard to see past the Mullins hotpot here and putting frankly I think she’ll win this and live up to her reputation as the ‘Mullins Banker’. The year’s renewal of this contest doesn’t look that strong and if she turns up in the same form as that Punchestown run then I can’t see much landing a glove on her.)
EACH WAY: ROKSANA (10/1)
(I think this Dan Skelton mare is a great each way bet at the prices and has shown her capability of being able to put in big performances in big contests this season.)
EACH WAY: LADY BUTTONS (16/1)
(I do think Lady Buttons will probably go to the Champion Chase but i’ve also had a little each way play on her for this at Non Runner No Bet. As stated before she’s developed into a very smart mare this term and developed into one of my favourite horses so i’ve backed her for both contests.)
Mares Novice Hurdle
(Class 1) (Grade 2) (2m 179y)
Thursday 14th March 2019
As stated in the opening paragraph here the Mares Novices Hurdle was only introduced in 2016 and since then all three renewals have been won by Willie Mullins with Limini, Let’s Dance and Laurina all collecting victory for the Closutton king. However it’s not Mullins who’s responsible for the favourite of this year’s renewal that comes in the form of Nicky Henderson’s Epatante who sports the JP McManus silks. She’s won both of her starts since moving to Seven Barrows and did it in style either time. She’s as short as 7/4 now for this in places and is the one to beat. There’s a smart pare of Irish raiders behind her in the betting both trained by Henry De Bromhead and both sporting the Alexander silks, these are of course Honeysuckle and Sinoria. It’s Honeysuckle who sits the most prominent in the betting of the pair as she’s unbeaten in all four of her starts including the last three whilst with De Bromhead the latter of these coming in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse.
Sinoria comes here on the back of a smart victory too having won within Listed company at Punchestown last time, she’s won two of her three starts since coming over from the point to point sphere and is another live player here. She’s trading at around 8/1. The strongest of the home challenge looks to come from the Paul Nicholls trained Posh Trish who comes here off the back of a fine campaign where she has won four of her five starts including two Listed events. She’s one of my personal favourites is this talented six year old and she certainly arrives here with a big chance. Nicky Henderson has more representatives in the line up who hold viable chances and these come in the form of Lust For Glory and Daphne Du Clos. The first of these Lust For Glory got the better of Posh Trish earlier in the season before the latter reversed the form on a later start. Daphne Du Clos is a highly regarded sort however was very disappointing the last time when well fancied, she’ll need a big step up on that showing. Willie Mullins has several chances in the line up at present and these are Sancta Simona, Salsaretta and My Sister Sarah. The JP McManus owned Sancta Simona has been in solid form this season, winning a Grade 3 and was second last time in a Graed 1 to Aramon. She currently trades at a general 10/1. Salsaretta sports the Ricci silks and was last seen when unseating early on within Grade 1 company at the Dublin Racing Festival, she won her two previous starts including getting the better of the smart Felix Desjy. You can find her at a best priced of 14/1 in the betting. My Sister Sarah is another interesting Mullins runner, she’s unlucky not to be coming into this unbeaten as when she did have her colours lowered she made up a lot of late ground to just be denied. She’s another that has a viable chance for Closutton and is a general 14/1 chance.
If Epatante is as good as many believe she is she should win this and win it well, it would be a surprise should she not be playing her hand at the business end of things. Posh Trish has been in fine form this season and has proven form at the track I think will be bang there, the placings could well be made up by any of the Mullins runners and I think Salsaretta might just edge it. She seemed to of been getting her act together before unseating last time.
1st: POSH TRISH (6/1)
2nd: EPATANTE (7/4)
3rd: MY SISTER SARAH (14/1)
EACH WAY: POSH TRISH (6/1)
(A horse that has progressed very nicely this season and looks a decent price here, she also has course form when bolting up in a bumper here which could well prove to be a big factor within this particular affair.
EACH WAY: MY SISTER SARAH (14/1)
(Talented sort for Willie Mullins who comes here winning two from three of her starts so far this term, she looks to have a pretty sharp turn of foot and could well prove to be a lively outsider here, Ruby Walsh looks to take the ride.)