The David Nicholson Mares Hurdle will be run as a Grade 1 contest for the first time ever this season and for that there is only one horse to thank for that. The exploits of the now legendary Quevega, in winning the race six times on the spin, will be remembered for many years to come and although the famous mare has now been retired, her legacy with this race in particular is assured.
The class of Quevega as well as that of her connections in getting her back to the Festival for six years on the bounce should not be forgotten and it will be fascinating to see who will follow in her hoof steps this season. The betting for this year's Grade 1 David Nicholson Mares Hurdle has been a fascinating market for months now and it is time to take the plunge and preview the race in full.
Main David Nicholson Mares Hurdle Contenders
Willie Mullins famously trained Quevega to her six victories and the Irish Champion Trainer clearly has his eyes set on continuing that run this season with a number of live contenders in his care. All the signs at the moment suggest that Annie Power is line for a tilt at this race and if she arrives fit and well, there is no doubt that she will be the one to beat in this one.
Annie Power built a fearsome reputation over hurdles last season as she swept all before her on her way to Cheltenham where she started as the favourite to win the World Hurdle on her first start over three miles. Plenty had wanted Annie Power to run in the Champion Hurdle such is her natural speed but she clearly has stamina on her side as she showed in the stayers race despite ultimately coming up just short. She travelled well throughout the race and looked the winner for a long way before she was passed on the hill by More Of That who is clearly a horse of the highest order.
She bounced back after that to win the Mares Champion Hurdle over 2m2f at the Punchestown Festival in May but hasn't been seen since. Connections decided to keep the mare over hurdles this season but she was found to be lame at home before her comeback run before Christmas meaning she could well go to Cheltenham without a prep a run (in true Quevega style). Reports from the yard over the past couple of weeks have been positive about her fitness though and she remains one of the talking horses of the sport.
One note of caution is that Annie Power is also currently featuring towards the head of the World Hurdle betting which has to be taken into account by ante-post punters. Connections have been silent on her target but with the Mares race now a Grade 1 contest and run over 2m4f which does seem to suit better, the feeling is that we are likely to see Annie run in this one.
Willie Mullins also has a very capable second string to his Mares Hurdle bow this season in the form of the rock solid Glens Melody (8/1), who was second last season. She ran a stormer last year to put it up to Quevega and any repeat of that run would surely see her go very close indeed. Glens Melody ran really well recently when second in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas over an inadequate trip and she is surely bang on track for the Festival as well as a guaranteed runner, all being well.
One horse who has been mixing it with the boys this season is the solid Aurore D'Estruval who is being aimed at the Mares Hurdle. The John Quinn trained seven-year-old produced her best run of the campaign back in November when second in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle behind the strong Irving, who himself could be an outsider for the Champion Hurdle.
Aurore D'Estruval also came out and won a Mares Hurdle at Sandown at the start of January as she stepped up in trip to 2m4f. That race was a slowly run affair and there are one or two doubts about her stamina if they do go a good clip at Cheltenham in March. She is a regular winner though and rightly has been popular recently at a around 9/2 in the betting for the Mares Hurdle.
The third potential Willie Mullins runner in the Mares Hurdle this season is the unexposed Morning Run who is something of an unknown. She has won all five of her starts to-date, including both of her two runs over hurdles this term, and some punters maybe willing to take a chance on a young horse like this one.
Morning Run was last seen winning the EBF Mares Novices Hurdle over 2m back at October ahead of Carrigmoorna Rock (14/1), who could re-oppose at the Cheltenham Festival, and that could turn out to be a strong piece of form. Most of her winning has been done on good ground but she has never run over further than 2m at the time of writing and backing her at 10/1 would be a leap of faith given her lack of experience,
It has been an indifferent season so far for Nicky Henderson but the Seven Barrows team do have a nice mare this season in the form of Polly Peachum who could run a big race here. The seven-year-old ran a blinding race at Wincanton back in November to beat the classy Blue Buttons giving heaps of weight away over 2m6f and that performance was a very taking one indeed with Cheltenham in mind.
She flopped on her next race at Kempton on her first start over 3m but that run was so bad it has to be forgiven and she might just be better back down at the Mares Hurdle trip.That race at Kempton was won by the rock solid Caroles Spirit who was given a soft lead that day but it surely too soon to write off the Nicky Henderson horse. Polly Peahcum won a Mares Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last April so clearly has no issues with the track at Prestbury Park and back down at his favourite trip, she does look each-way value at 16/1 with Paddy Power.
The aforementioned Blue Buttons (33/1) has come out since that defeat behind Polly Peachum and franked that form with some strong performances since. She stayed on really strongly on heavy ground at Wincanton at the start of January to win a decent handicap hurdle for Harry Fry and although she is likely to find a couple too good at the Festival, she is no mug.
We must also give a mention to the super impressive Tara Point (16/1) who is currently a big price given her undoubted class. The Paul Nicholls trained Mare has won two of her three starts this season with only the boys beating her at Sandown before Christmas. She has shown oodles of class in her two wins, including last time out in the Mares Novice Hurdle at Taunton although it should be said that she is a far from certain runner at the Festival given her lack of experience.
The David Nicholson Mares Hurdle is a fascinating prospect from a betting point of view this season with Annie Power clearly the talking horse. There is no question that a fit and firing Annie Power will be far to good for this field but there are one or two warnings for punters happy to back her at a shade of odds against. Annie hasn't been seen since May due to injury which is an issue despite connections reporting her to be well at home, while the lure of the World Hurdle is also a possibility given the open looking nature of that contest this season.
With that in mind, we prefer to look elsewhere for an ante-post bet in the David Nicholson Mares market this season. Aurore D'Estruval has done nothing wrong all season and is one to consider although her best performances have come down at 2m which would be a slight worry.
That does not apply to Polly Peachum who looks a massive price after she bombed out on her first try over 3m which is a performance we can draw a line through. The Nicky Henderson horse has winning form at Cheltenham and on ground and a trip to suit, she looks great value at an each-way price in a market dominated by a short priced favourite. Paddy Power are the only bookmakers in the village prepared to offer 16/1 about Polly Peahcum, at the time of writing, which is interesting given that the majority of on-line firms are as short as 10/1 about her winning at the Festival.