Matt Tombs / Thursday 20th February 2014 / 15:30
The Mares Hurdle is often the weakest conditions event at the Festival - there is rarely any depth to the race, with lots of no hopers lining up. Quevega (10/11) will be a seeking a 6 timer and is obviously the one to beat.
To win any race 5 years in a row is a great training achievement. The stats boys would be able to tell you what the record is but I remember Risk Of Thunder winning the La Touche 7 times in a row, so perhaps we’ll be back next season seeing if Quevega can emulate Enda Bolger’s star of the banks.
She’s odds-on because she hasn’t been beaten since 2009 - although she’s only had 8 races since. The only other race she runs in is the 3m open Grade 1 hurdle at the Punchestown Festival and she was impressive in thumping Reve De Sivola in that on bad ground last season.
By contrast, she was far from impressive in this last season. For once Ruby got into a bad position and he said afterwards that she'd have won easily if he hadn’t got into traffic problems at the top of the hill. Riding the mare he has the best view, but to me she seemed to take a long time to get going even when she got a clear run - even allowing for Ruby's style of riding and confidence in Quevega. She just looked to stay on – the old burst of speed wasn’t there.
Another year older now, there has to be a question mark about whether she retains enough toe to win this, especially if there’s a sound surface. Given she never runs until this race its impossible to know – she might simply outclass them again. The sense is that many punters are just assuming because Willie Mullins has brought her fresh and well to win many times before, that he can do so again.
Time catches up with every horse – she’s 10 now, and I think this will be the year she gets beaten. In price terms, I’m doubt she’ll be any shorter on the day as the layers will surely be out to get her, (although her SP will depend on how the Mullins hot pots earlier in the day get on, as there will be stacks of accumulators with her as the last leg).
One telling comment came from Rich Ricci who owns Annie Power (6/1). He said that he was acutely aware of "the sense of history" when choosing Annie Power’s Festival race. Whilst he didn’t directly say so, the inference was that one reason Annie Power wouldn’t run in the Mares race is that the Closutton team think she’d beat Quevega easily.
It’s pretty clear that Willie Mullins is determined to keep all his other classy mares away from the race to ease the path for Quevega. The likes of Glens Melody (16/1), Upsie (16/1) & Tarla (20/1) are therefore unlikely runners which makes the race even less competitive than the market initially suggests.
If Quevega is susceptible to something with a real turn of foot over 2m4f in a race run at a typical steady mares gallop, there are few candidates. Because of the relatively modest level of form involved, this is the sort of race where an unexposed type could belie long odds to run a big race - and it wouldn't surprise me if a mare that was an unexpected entry did so. In that sense there is often some each-way value at fancy prices nearer the time, but in terms of finding the winner, proven class ought to come to the fore.
Sirene D’Ainay (11/1) ran a good race to be 2nd last season but couldn’t beat Quevega when she had the run of the race. She’s only won once from 6 starts since (in a chase) and looks short enough.
Swing Bowler (20/1) had an attractive profile coming into this race last season having won her first 5 and then been 3rd to My Tent Or Yours in the Betfair Hurdle off 134. She bombed in this last year and made a belated seasonal debut when a good 5th in the Betfair off 136 this time. Other than in this she’s run only at around 2m and whether it was the track or the trip that didn’t suit when she ran in this last year, there has to be a big question mark over whether this rather than the County Hurdle is the right target now.
Another doubtful runner is Highland Retreat (20/1) who has won 3 on the bounce over staying trips, (has never run over as short a trip as 2m4f). She was quite impressive in a decent race last time at Ascot (3m, heavy), looking as if stamina was her strong suit. She apparently won’t run unless the ground is testing so isn’t an ante-post proposition at this stage.
Down Ace (16/1) is an interesting and unexposed mare. She won her 3rd point and is unbeaten under rules in 2 bumpers and 3 hurdles, all around 2m. Her pointing background augurs well for a step up to 2m4f and its impossible to know how good she is. The reality though is that she’s rated 128 (RPR 127) and her bare form is miles short of what’s required.
If Quevega is to be beaten, its likely to be by a horse with a superior turn of foot – its hard to see anything beating her through stamina. There’s only one mare that might realistically take her on, who has shown she’s fast enough to compete in top open races - Cockney Sparrow (10/1)
It’s hard to imagine any of the other likely challengers to Quevega finishing 2nd in a Fighting Fifth as Cockney Sparrow did. It’s possible she was flattered as My Tent Or Yours won cosily and Grumeti (yard form) and Melodic Rendezvous (ground, apparently pulled muscles) might have had excuses. Nevertheless she stayed on powerfully passed Grumeti and even a conservative reading of that race is very strong form in the context of this.
Last time she was probably in the process of being outclassed by Annie Power when tipping up 2 out at Doncaster. The ground there was changed to soft immediately after that race and she’s better on a sounder surface. Fortunately she is apparently none the worse for her tumble and has reportedly schooled well since.
She’s yet to race beyond 2m1f but stayed 1m6f on the flat and given the ordinary gallop they tend to go in this, I’m confident 2m4f will be well within range – she may well improve for it. Her owner confirmed yesterday that she runs in the race and I can see her being half the price on the day, as she’s 5 and improving all the time.
The other one to consider is Doyly Carte (25/1) who was giving 8lb to Cockney Sparrow when 8¾l 5th to her at Wetherby over 2m in the autumn. They were along side when Cockney Sparrow came down last time and it was interesting to hear Donald McCain say he thought Doyly Carte would have finished ahead of Cockney Sparrow if she’d stood up. I’m not convinced and if the ground is decent I’d expect to Cockney Sparrow to beat her decisively again at Cheltenham. Doyly Carte is probably the each-way thieves bet in this – but I just don’t see her as having Cockney Sparrow’s class. It’s that class Cockney Sparrow has shown in open Grade 1 company over 2m, that could undo Quevega.
1pt Cockney Sparrow to win the Mares Hurdle @ 10/1