Quevega will make her annual pilgrimage to the Cheltenham Festival on March 11 and the Willie Mullins-trained superstar will look to rule supreme for the sixth consecutive year when she lines up in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle and she is already a red-hot favourite to continue her dominance in the female division and maintain her sensational Prestbury Park record.
Five wins out of five in the opening day’s contest, the ten-year-old has become most punter’s banker of the entire week and the bookmakers are certainly not willing to go out on a limb and take on the perennial champion and she is a best-priced 4/5 shot with Betfred for the 2m 4f contest with many believing if she turns up then she will win a coveted sixth title.
Mullins has elected to stick with the tried and tested route of handing her first start at the festival and she showed tremendous class and tenacity last season when coming from way off the back to nail the front-running Sirene D’ainay after the last flight and propelling up the hill, so if she can repeat that effort then she will yet again be the starlet of the show.
She was momentarily outpaced as they came down the hill in last year’s event, but Ruby Walsh managed to find a real tune out of the daughter of Robin Des Champs up the home straight and she scythed her way through the field to win with ease and to the raptures of the vociferous Prestbury Park crowd.
Walsh may opt to be a bit closer to the pace for this year’s running, as it was her class that really came to the fore, when for a couple of strides she looked to be struggling, but there’s no doubting that if she can turn up in similar form to the last five years then she will be extremely tough to beat and the 4/5 available with various firms at the moment could look an attractive betting proposition come race day in a couple of weeks.
In a division that often lacks in real quality there is one exciting hurdler that has launched into the limelight this campaign and that is Quevega’s stablemate Annie Power, but connections of the unbeaten mare have already voiced their unwillingness to take on the mighty Quevega and she is destined to take her chance in either the Champion Hurdle or World Hurdle.
However, should something go amiss with Quevega’s preparations and she is forced to miss the Prestbury Park extravaganza then there’s always that chance that Annie Power could then head to the Mares’ Hurdle and look to secure another success for Mullins, so that is why many of the Non Runner No Bet firms in this market have Annie Power listed at an attractive 6/1, but if all goes to plan then she will not be seen in this event.
The aforementioned Sirene D’ainay ran an absolute corker in last year’s renewal and her one-and-a-half length defeat to Quevega is very creditable form, but having gone off at 33/1 for the 2013 running she is only available at a best-priced 10/1 with Bet365 this year and she was last seen winning over fence at Pau in early February, so she may struggle to emulate the heroics of 12 months ago and there could be some better value elsewhere.
John Quinn’s Cockney Sparrow has been a progressive performer in both spheres this campaign as she first landed a decent win on the Flat before going on to be a creditable second to My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and she is available at 8/1 with most firms for this prize.
She did blot her copybook somewhat next time up when falling at the second last flight in the Grade Two OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster, which was won in style by the aforesaid Annie Power, when still in contention to make the places. However, she would not have been able to deal with the winner that day who quickened with aplomb and her jumping will be tested in this race that can often have a big field and she will not be able to dethrone Quevega.
Fergal O’Brien’s Down Ace has been slowly improving as her fledgling career begins to ignite and she stepped up on her previous four wins to land her fifth career success in a Listed event at Taunton in December to maintain her 100% record and at 16/1 could be a superb each-way contender if taking her chance in this event.
A four-length winner on her debut at Cheltenham in April shows that she will have no problem dealing with the undulations of the Gloucestershire venue and she has done nothing but improve this campaign and even though she will struggle to step up to get the better of the multiple Graded winner Quevega, she could certainly fight it out for the minor honours and is of interest.
Glens Melody could be the second shot fired by the Mullins gun and she has some smart form over timber, including a decent placed effort behind World Hurdle hope More Of That and if she was to take her place then should be good enough to make the frame. Nevertheless, Mullins has always voiced his concerns over ground issues and she has a real love for soft going and with the weather set relatively fair for the next couple of weeks then she could bypass the meeting and that’s why she is 14/1 with some firms.
Of the others, David Pipe’s Swing Bowler is a progressive mare, but the Pond House team are likely to head down the handicap route with her and she may not take her place in the field that she finished 15th in last year, whilst Harry Fry’s improving Highland Retreat could be a potential placed contender as she sparkled when winning the Grade Two Warfield Mares’ Hurdle and if lining up will not be available at 16/1 on the day.
However, all of these challengers to the crown will have to produce a career best and also hope that Quevega fails to show her traditional vim and vigour as if the Willie Mullins-trained wonder mare turns up in the same form as she has done the last half a decade then there’s no beating her to an unprecedented sixth crown on the opening day of the meeting.
Predicted 2014 David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle Finishing Order