It’s me, Hi, I’m the problem, it’s me...

The lyrics might be Taylor Swift’s but if the Cheltenham Mares’ Hurdle had a voice, it might well be forced to defend its existence in the same way.

It came under attack again last week amid the dilution of the Festival argument.

The addition of the mares’ races is regularly put forward as one of the negatives in the dilution of the Festival debates. But does it really pull Grade 1 horses away from the Champion Hurdle?

The Grade 1 hurdle entries were revealed last week and small fields are likely. We’ve had the debate that, as in flat racing, mares have every right to have a Grade 1 exclusively to themselves at the National Hunt Festival.

At the same time, I don’t think the Mares’ Novice adds anything to the card and I was not in favour to the Mares’ Chase being added to the card, thinking there might not be enough decent quality mares that had shown good form over hurdles, kept in training to go over fences.

The more valuable a mare, the bigger the risk of injury over fences. Yet recent weeks have seen Allegorie De Vassy and Impervious emerge as quality novices to take on Elimay and Scarlett And Dove.

Going back to the hurdlers, there were very few calls for Quevega to be put in the Stayers’ Hurdle in her early days because, 1 - she was running at Grade 2 level and 2 – the Stayers’ Hurdle was a decent race in its own right. The 2014 version, the year od Quevega’s last win, even had Annie Power in it. You couldn’t be sure Quevega was Grade 1 to pitch her in. The early Mares’ Hurdle winners were not Grade 1 class – the first winner Whiteoak tried the Champion and was well beaten the following year.

Wide margin

We can get carried away by wide margin winners in mares’ only races without getting a handle on the level of the form.

Ruby Walsh even said so (“I’m not sure they are at the same standard”) on the Road to Cheltenham on Racing TV last week.

Apple’s Jade, Annie Power and Honeysuckle progressed up the ranks from the Mares’ Hurdle to Grade 1 winners and then tried their hand in the Champion Hurdle.

It is the general decrease in quality horses across the hurdling division that has caused the reduction of competitiveness, not the Mares’ Hurdle which has been instrumental in bringing the likes of Honeysuckle through the ranks to the top. Would she have beaten Epatante in the 2020 Champion Hurdle? No one really expected so then.

You can argue that mares the likes of Mysilv and Voler La Vedette had their reputations perhaps enhanced by taking on allcomers, even if they fell short in open Grade 1s.

But if you owned or bred a decent mare, would you not be delighted that there is a mares’ Grade 1 at the Festival? The race is sure to have a decent-size field and competitive betting.

With all the talk of ante-post betting being dead, and the opening day likely to have at least four very short-priced favourite, the two mares’ races will be excellent betting heats.

The Friday card tends to dwindle away after the Gold Cup, but the Mares’ Chase this year is shaping up to be a good betting race between last year’s crop and the new novices who head the market.

Allegorie De Vassy, Impervious, Telmesomethinggirl and Galia Des Liteaux have all won impressively but you just don’t know how good they are. They will provide a decent race against each other.

Hi, It’s me - Always rooting for the anti-hero. Sorry, make that the Mares’ Hurdle!

Lament for Limestone

A TWEET this week of a line from Michael Bowe, when asked about his old star Limestone Lad, gained a huge amount of traction and nice comments. It set the mind thinking of just how lacking we are of ‘public’ horses nowadays to gather interest and bypass racing from just the betting angle.

News that Limestone Lad is still hale and hearty, long after he had retired, brought a smile to many faces. Perhaps this weekend, Frodon and Paisley Park edge into that category but sadly there are few. With horses now running so few times, the public engagement is simply not there. The sport is weaker for it.

Gowran Park


IT might seem odd to be questioning the form of 15- and 38-length winners but a longer look might be needed at the easy wins registered at Gowran Park by Teahupoo and Sir Gerhard respectively.

Both races lacked any depth. The going might be the problem for Teahupoo and the fences for Sir Gerhard.

Teahupoo is two from two this season and soft ground suits him well. He is a year older than when well beaten in the Champion Hurdle and again at Punchestown.

However, Thursday’s race fell apart and had a few disappointing efforts and the 3/1 for the Stayers Hurdle, a wide open looking renewal, is a bit skinny at this stage. The complexion of the race will change too if Flooring Porter is not there to dictate a decent pace.

Also at Gowran, Sir Gerhard was very novicey in winning his beginners’ chase. Barry Geragthy noted in the RTE analysis how he went in and ‘popped’ most of the fences rather than standing off and having a cut. He stood too far off the last first time and panicked, paddling through which would not suffice over the stiffer Cheltenham fences.

The Brown Advisory Novices’ seemed to be the favoured target, but there is little time to get another run in. This was largely a schooling session and - with a bigger field, faster pace and 20 fences to jump in the three-mile novice – it’s a risky business.

The 16s with most firms for the Stayers’ could look decent on the day if he was sent there.