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OLBG Mares' Hurdle (David Nicholson) (Grade 1)
Run on the first day of Cheltenham Festival each year (Tuesday 14th March), the OLBG Mares Hurdle (formerly the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle) has been run nine times. Six of those were won by Willie Mullins’s star mare, Quevega.
Our tip for the 2017 OLBG Mares Hurdle is Gordon Elliott’s Apple’s Jade, whose shown herself to be an incredibly classy mare on multiple occasions for both Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
Second in last year’s Triumph Hurdle on only her second start outside France, she went on to record two incredibly impressive efforts at both Aintree and Punchestown. Routing Ivanoich Gorbatov by 41 lengths in the 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle, she returned to Ireland with another emphatic win, comfortably dispatching Let’s Dance in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle. Returning this season on ground she didn’t appreciate, she was beaten by Rashaan on season reappearance but can be forgiven the run and was far from disgraced when second in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle three weeks later.
She returned to her best when battling gamely to win the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December and perhaps the ground was too soft for her when beaten by Limini in the Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown. She drifted in price as a result which seems to be an over reaction, as she certainly wasn’t disgraced in that run and should be happier back at Cheltenham with the perfect amount of cut in the ground for her likely. Her price is now far too tempting, considering the class she has shown throughout her career and the fact she handles Cheltenham well. She looks a very likely candidate and Gordon Elliott who can stop Willie Mullins domination of this race since 2009.
With only nine runnings – and six of those won by Quevega, while Annie Power should have won but for a last hurdle fall in 2015 – trends are hard to come by.
- Willie Mullins has trained 8 of the 9 winners
- Ruby Walsh has ridden 7 of the 9 winners
- 6-year-olds have finished 2nd in this race 4 times in the 9 runnings
- 20 of the last 26 winners and placed horses finished in the first two on their last completed start
Welcome to a race continually farmed by the Willie Mullins yard, with no less than seven of the eight winners in the race’s short history: six with the legendary Quevega; Glens Melody in 2015 who picked up the pieces after Annie Power fell when well clear over the last and Vroum Vroum Mag in 2016. Our in-depth OLBG Mares Hurdle preview can be found below, with a tip to come shortly for this fascinating contest.
This has certainly be a season of ups and downs for Gordon Elliott’s Apple’s Jade, who shouldn’t be dimissed just yet. She started off with an easy win at Leopardstown in a Grade 2 and then went to the Triumph Hurdle where she finished a very credible second behind Ivanovich Gorbatov. However, when she reopposing that rival in the 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree a few weeks later she emphatically put him in his place, winning by a staggering 41 lengths. Although disappointing at the start of this season, she started to show her true form when winning the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, beating Vroum Vroum Mag and cementing her place at the joint top of the market. She had other options open to her at that point, including the Champion Hurdle, but her subsequent defeat to a returning Limini put that plan on the after burners. She didn’t show her best on that run in the Quevega Mares’ Hurdle and she has proven many times in the past she is more than capable of bouncing back. Her performances towards the end of last season are not forgotten about and she has proven her Chetenham suitability in the past, staying on well up the hill. She’s likely to get the cut in the ground she needs and looks overpriced at present, as there may well have been an overreaction to her latest defeat.
With her at the top of the market is Vroum Vroum Mag who, although beaten in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle by Apple’s Jade, made amends when winning the Irish Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown a few weeks later. Another one of Willie Mullins’s super mares, she is incredibly versatile and has proven herself to be very smart, winning the race last season for connections in good style. Back on equal weights with Apple’s Jade – who she had to give weight to on their previous meeting – it would be no surprise to see her reverse the form and she has a good chance to continue her great record in the UK and Ireland, only beaten once in 12 starts. Seemingly ground versatile, with wins ranging from good to soft to heavy ground, Mullins’s eight-year-old seems to be flattening out in terms of progression though, and certainly made heavy weather of putting away her rivals at Doncaster in January, all out to repel the challenge of Midnight Jazz, who she was rated 14lb superior too. Regardless of that run, she is clearly a very class mare and if you can forgive it she clearly holds a big chance if at her very best. She is not, however, the only option for connections, with another up-and-coming mare for Mullins also lurking in the shadows.
Returning this season when putting a well backed Apple’s Jade in her place, Limini caused somewhat of a surprise when turning over the 2/5 favourite in comfortable fashion, breezing past at the final fence. That was a marked improvement from her runs last season, where she looked equally as talented, winning the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices Hurdle at the Festival in comfortable fashion before two subsequent good runs in Grade 1 contests at Aintree and Punchestown. As that was her seasonal reappearance, she is likely to strip even fitter when reemerging in March for the Festival, so it isn’t a surprise to see her now a best priced 5/4 for the race. She has already proved she stays this trip strongly and handles Cheltenham well, so holds a very obvious chance in this and has to be respected.
A multiple Grade 1 winner over hurdles, Jer’s Girl is still likely to have more to give for the rest of this season. Winner of the Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final at Fairyhouse and the Irish Champion Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown, she created a good impression both times, winning with ease. She has not gone on from those runs however, finishing a well beaten second in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and a disappointing last place in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown a month later. Stepping back up in trip seems to be the correct move as she won both her Grade 1 races at this trip. Jer’s Girl should also not be discounted on the back of her recent efforts, with trainer Gavin Cromwell stating that she ran flat on her latest run, and that the Mares’ Hurdle is indeed her intended target: “She ran a bit flat, but she’s come out of the race okay. She’ll go for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Whether she runs in between, I’m not sure.” As only a five-year-old she should be progressive, so it is concerning that she seems to be regressing this season. She does need to show something extra in the lead-up to the Festival to convince that she can challenge the other talented mares in the race.
An interesting runner for Paul Nicholls is Lifeboat Mona who has been inconsistent for the Champion Trainer, but stepped up markedly on her latest start when winning at Ascot in November, easily dismissing her rivals by eight lengths. Still lightly raced over hurdles with just four runs under her belt, she should be capable of better, and if continuing to progress from her latest run she would be a creditable Each Way threat in the race. Considering she was only a €600 buy, it would be a fairy tale if she were to win the race which last year had a purse of £100,000. The main concern, however, would be her lack of Group 1 experience as the highest class of race she has competed in is Listed company so far. It would be interesting to see her upped to that level before the Festival so that we can get a true indication of her current level.
Along with our OLBG Mares Hurdle preview, a race that Willie Mullins looks to continue is dominance of, we have all our other Cheltenham Festival tips and previews online to view now!
There are currently 18 entries in the OLBG Mares Hurdle:
- Apple’s Jade
- Bon Chic
- Briery Queen
- Colin’s Sister
- Hidden Identity
- Indian Stream
- Jer’s Girl
- Lifeboat Mona
- Midnight Jazz
- Midnight Tour
- Miss Crick
- Pass The Time
- Rock On The Moor
- Rons Dream
- The Organist
- Vroum Vroum Mag
Since its inception in 2008, the Mares Hurdle race has been one of the showpiece events on the first day of the Festival. It has also been synonymous with the name Quevega.
The first ever race was won by 20/1 shot White Oak, who was wallowing with the back markers before the third last, but jockey Jason Maguire pushed her along and she swept past all the other runners, taking victory by a short head.
Then Willie Mullins came on to the scene with the French bred Quevega. She went into the 2009 hurdle as the 2/1 favourite and recovered from a slow start to romp to an impressive 14 length victory. What followed was the longest winning streak in Cheltenham history, as the dominant mare won the race for the next five years, beating the five year winning streak Golden Miller managed in 1930’s Gold Cups.
There were a couple of close calls along the way; Ruby Walsh needed to shake her up a little in 2010 and 2012, but both times she responded and ran clear. Held up at the rear in 2013, she had to show her blistering pace to bypass every horse on her way to victory, which she did with consummate ease. The closest run of all her wins was in 2014 as she was pushed all the way by stablemate Glens Melody – who actually led the history seeking mare going over the last. But Quevega showed her class once again, overtaking her rival to win by three quarters of a length on her final Cheltenham Festival appearance.
With Quevega no longer racing, it looked like Willie Mullins had found the perfect replacement, with Annie Power starting the 2015 event as the odds-on favourite. The seven-year-old showed plenty of class and talent, leading comfortably approaching the last. But it was not to be for her this year, as she and Ruby Walsh clipped the top of the hurdle and were sent tumbling to the ground. In a thrilling three way battle to pick up the win that had suddenly presented itself, it was the 2014 runner-up Glens Melody who edged out Polly Peachum and Bitofapuzzle by a nose, ensuring Mullins would hold on to the Mares Hurdle trophy for a seventh consecutive year.
In 2016, the dominance of the Willie Mullins yard continued, but this time with French import Vroum Vroum Mag who came into the race off the back of an eight race winning streak. Sent off the 4/6 favourite, she was held up in rear under Ruby Walsh who gradually went through the gears and turning for home she pinged the last to beat Rock On The Moor by two and a half lengths in what was a very comfortable victory.