The Mares’ Hurdle is sometimes cause for a little debate, with the argument being that a Grade 1 quality Mare should be competing against the opposite sex in either the Champion Hurdle or the Stayers’ Hurdle. From a personal perspective my view is that it’s a good race that attracts decent quality, big fields and it gives the slightly lower rated Mares’ a chance to compete at the festival, an opportunity that they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have.
Quevega was a sensational 6-time winner of this contest and the farming of this race by Willie Mullins continued in the two years subsequently as Glens Melody (I won’t go into the tragic Annie Power fall) and Vroum Vroum Mag took the honours. Last seasons renewal, for me, was one of the races of the festival as Limini, Vroum Vroum Mag and Apple’s Jade jumped the last in unison before the latter fought back in a nail biting finish to claim victory for Gordon Elliott.
There’s no better place to start this preview than with the reigning champion and 4/6 favourite, Apple’s Jade. Quite frankly, she would be my idea of the banker of the festival (if there is such a thing). She has shown time and time again how high class she is, already a 7-time Grade 1 winner with 4 of those coming against the opposite sex. Not that her form really needs advertising, but she narrowly edged out Supasundae in the Christmas Hurdle when last seen and that rival has since gone on to win the Irish Champion Hurdle and is now favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle. I expect Apple’s Jade to simply be too good.
However, for the purpose of making this piece a worthwhile read and to find some value in the race, we shall move on. Let’s Dance is second in and she looks Mullins’ leading hope of regaining the title (unless Vroum Vroum Mag ends up taking her chance of course). Winner of the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at last years festival, she was a cut above in that division, but has found things a little tougher since. She won a Grade 3 at Leopardstown over Christmas when nothing seemed to be going right for her stable, she won that comfortably but even so she has a bit to find with Apple’s Jade based on their Juvenile clashes and at 6/1 (or 5/2 in the Without The Favourite market) I feel it’s better to look elsewhere.
Benie Des Dieux would be an intriguing runner for Rich Ricci but she jumps fences so well I would be a little surprised to see her line up here. But in saying that she has done everything right in her three starts for her new handler so far and she seems to have plenty of class. If she were to take her chance I would certainly be considering her.
A horse that I do like is Colin’s Sister of Fergal O’Brien’s, who is having a brilliant season. She really came into her own last campaign by winning four on the bounce, including a Grade 2, before disappointing at Fairyhouse in April. She hit the ground running on her reappearance when winning the West Yorkshire Hurdle back in November and has performed creditably in three subsequent Grade 2’s without winning. I think she definitely has the ability to feature at the business end in a race like this, backed up by her rating of 150, but the main concern I have is the 2m4f on probable good ground. The contest may be a touch on the sharp side for her given she has been staying on over 3m on soft ground. So she probably wouldn’t be an antepost punt (she may also go for the Stayers’ Hurdle anyway), but if it were to turn up soft at the festival she would be making my shortlist.
My main fancy at the bigger prices comes in the shape of Gavin Cromwell’s Jer’s Girl, who met with a slight setback at the beginning of the year but I’m hoping she’ll be fighting fit come March. A dual Grade 1 winning Juvenile, she has plenty of class and showed she retains plenty of ability by winning comfortably on the flat to kick start this seasons campaign before finishing 2 lengths behind Apple’s Jade at Navan. Her latest appearance came at Kempton over 3 miles where she was narrowly edged out by the improving La Bague Au Roi, who franked the form by winning a Grade 2 next time out by a facile 16-lengths. Jer’s Girl was travelling well and in the process of running a good race when falling three out in last years Mares’ Hurdle and dropping back to 2m4f for that race again this season should be ideal. I much prefer the Non Runner No Bet angle for her as I’m not exactly sure how she’s getting on following her setback and there is a chance she may not make the festival, so the 20/1 NRNB looks very reasonable to me, as does the 10/1 in the Without Apple’s Jade market for some each way value.
One who I simply cannot ignore is the aforementioned La Bague Au Roi who has a tremendously impressive 10 wins from 13 appearances. She’s incredibly tough and doesn’t stop galloping, if she takes this race by the scruff of the neck then I can see her being quite hard to catch. She’s another one that could possibly go for the Stayers’ Hurdle, but if she takes her chance here I’d be pretty keen on her running a big race. 10/1 NRNB or 6/1 NRNB Without Apple’s Jade both are very tempting and also very fair.
Of the other contenders, Vroum Vroum Mag would obviously be a massive player if lining up, she has an entry in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan this Sunday (18th February) so we’ll know far more about her well-being if she takes up that assignment. She picked up an injury at Punchestown last year and whether she’ll be the same horse is anyones guess, but she oozes class and would have to be feared.
Augusta Kate is smart on her day but has plenty to find with Apple’s Jade on their past meetings, Dusky Legend is a model of consistency for Alan King and will likely run her race but she does struggle to win. Kayf Grace is one who could potentially improve for the step up in distance and could run well along with last years fourth, Indian Stream, who is a massive 100/1 following a couple of poor efforts so far this season and could improve for a return to Cheltenham on better ground.
Apple’s Jade is obviously the stand out here and I imagine her being a stalwart in festival accumulators. But away from her the main two who I can see running well and hopefully at least filling the places if turning up are Jer’s Girl and La Bague Au Roi. Soft ground would be a plus for Colin’s Sister while it would be intriguing to see Benie Des Dieux participate.