“In years to come, whether it’s in 20 years or 30 years or even if I’m not around to hear it, it would be fantastic if a racing pundit was talking about horses coming from the great family of Quevega. To have that lineage, it would be great, and she would deserve it.”

GER O’Brien, one half of the Hammer & Trowel syndicate, is in a relaxed mood on the phone this week.

He says it’s always a good sign when The Irish Field is ringing him because it means he has a good horse. That he does in red-hot Champion Bumper favourite Facile Vega, whom he owns alongside his long-time friend and co-owner Sean Deane.

“Sean is away sunning himself abroad - topping up the tan for Cheltenham next week, so I can do all the talking,” he informs.

As Sir Alex Ferguson once famously said towards the end of a tight title race in the Premier League, it’s squeaky-bum time. And has there ever been a more anticipated Cheltenham Festival given the two-year wait to get in behind those closed doors? Not least this side of the water after a 23-winner haul 12 months ago.

Where once there was one Irish banker, now there can be five or six. The anticipation has become expectation and with expectation comes pressure. Facile Vega is a banker for many but the ‘Hammer’ O’Brien and ‘Trowel’ Deane have seen it all before. For six years in a row, 2009 to 2014, they went to Cheltenham with a favourite and came home with a winner.

Quevega was the postwoman at the Festival. Death, taxes and Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle. She always delivered. So Facile Vega at even money for the Champion Bumper? It’s no big deal really.

Different dynamic

But now it’s a different dynamic for her Clane, Co Kildare-based owners because the five-year-old is a son of the great mare, and is the first to represent the new generation on the hallowed grounds of Prestbury Park. The hope is he’ll be the first of many because there are four more siblings already in line, the latest born just last month, a full brother to Facile Vega.

As O’Brien puts it, “phase two has started,” and needless to say, these are seriously exciting times.

“Of course they are,” O’Brien asserts. “Quevega gave us unbelievable entertainment for seven years. To then retire eight years ago and now be producing foals, is unbelievable.

“Princess Vega was her first foal. She won her maiden hurdle in Tramore and then got injured and never properly recovered from it. She was put in foal last May and is due at the end of April this year. And now with Facile having the potential that he has; she just is the mare that keeps on giving.”

Quevega already has had as many foals on the ground as she has Mares’ Hurdle wins, and next month, all being well, she’ll become a ‘granny’ as Princess Vega is expecting an Order Of St George foal.

After Facile Vega, there is another four-year-old filly by Walk In The Park in Closutton now, a three-year-old filly by Camelot, a two-year-old filly by Australia and the latest is a colt foal again by Walk In The Park.

They say it can be risky to have high expectations that a quality National Hunt race mare will produce quality in her offspring, and in Quevega’s heyday, Willie Mullins always used to refer to her owners as racing people rather than breeding people, which is partly why she was kept on the go until was a 10-year-old, but O’Brien makes the process sound very simple thereafter.

“We had a good mare and we decided to keep her,” he says. “When we decided to keep her, we decided she deserved the best hotel available so we contacted the National Stud.

“We had seven fantastic years from her and took the view that we could get another seven or 10 fantastic years from her producing foals with a view of keeping them and racing them as well. That phase two has started, she was the only mare we had except her daughter Princess Vega who is also in foal to Order Of St George, so now we have two mares.

“The National Stud plays a huge part in the whole process. The care and attention she gets there is fantastic and no stone is left unturned. Everything just goes so smoothly.

“They used to have Patrick Diamond, who has gone to fresher pastures, and Conor Hyland has taken over now. Emma and Annette, they would be the people I communicate with the most. It’s just so easy to talk to them at all times, they’re so easy to deal with. It really is a first-class show over there. All we do is pay the bills.

“It might be a romantic dream that we could have a band of mares now but that would be in our thoughts. The fact that there’s four fillies on the ground at the moment as well as the two boys, it means the legacy will hopefully continue and that would be fantastic.”

Happy hunting ground

As mentioned, O’Brien and Deane are laid back when it comes to Cheltenham. How could you blame them when it has been such a happy hunting ground. Facile Vega is odds-on with most bookmakers to give them an eighth success at the Festival following the exploits of Quevega and the brilliantly durable Thousand Stars.

With every odds-on favourite at the Festival comes scrutiny from all corners, but that has never bothered O’Brien.

“It’s a game of opinions of course, that’s one of the great things about sport in general, but we take ours from Closutton,” O’Brien says. “It’s going to be a great race. I just hope they all show up and there are no hard luck stories.

“Watching Facile Vega at Leopardstown (winning the Grade 2 Goffs Future Stars) was surreal. It was only when I got home that evening and watched the replay of it - it was all done in a matter of strides. Watching him live, you just don’t see the fact that Patrick was motionless, and then eased him down inside the final furlong. It was more than any of us anticipated.”

And now the experience is different for O’Brien and Deane, having gone from owners to owner-breeders.

“It’s a completely different dynamic. In the actual moment of a victory, you’re just wrapped up in the achievement there and then but when you look back at it, it’s a different type of joy or satisfaction. Someone had to decide what the sire was, and organise the logistics and whatever it may be. When that comes to fruition, it’s very nice.

“Normally, you’re just buying a horse and they’re about ready to go. On this side, the process is obviously much longer. Your mare is covered and then you have your date in mind, either the end of February or middle of March, and you’re always looking forward to that.

“Then for us, two years later, the horses go down to John Berry for a couple of months as two-year-olds, and then the following year they’ll go down to John twice. John and his son John do an amazing job with them and deserve huge credit.

“When their third stint with John is done, they’ll go to Willie’s just before Christmas, turn four in Closutton and begin working towards the following year when they come back in after Galway. So it’s a longer process, a six-year process as such, and you’ve all these different date lines along the way, so for sure it’s a different dynamic.”

But as an owner or as a regular punter, Cheltenham is a magical place for O’Brien, like so many others. He’s missed the Festival only twice since 1996, and not by choice on either occasion. It’s the atmosphere, the elation, the emotions and he says it is quite simply the Olympics for any jumps horse, the end goal as soon as you breed or buy.

The suggestion of a five-day Festival has risen its head again and like so many fans of the meeting, O’Brien is vehemently against such a move.

“If they get greedy with five days they will make a mess of it,” he asserts. “I would be very, very adamant on that. When it went to four days, at the time I was hemming and hawing but I suppose there would have been no Mares’ Hurdle without it.

“But I can’t see the point in adding one more day to take money and adding two races and going with six races each day. It’s more or less sticking the two fingers up at the paying public who will get just six races on a day for the same money.”

O’Brien and Deane will be back in Cheltenham as owners next week and when you consider they’ve only had a handful of horses, it’s remarkable that they will be hoping for an eighth success at the Festival. That fact alone has to have them among the most privileged in the game, not least when you see the amount invested by other owners who are still seeking their maiden win at Cheltenham.

Horse of a lifetime

But that’s what you get with a horse of a lifetime in Quevega, who even has a bar named after her at the racecourse now. She was a truly unique race mare, trained in a truly unique way.

“I remember when we went to see her for the first time at Punchestown,” O’Brien recalls. “They told me she was small and I wasn’t surprised when I saw her walking around the ring on her own, because she was still a young mare at that stage. It was only when Ruby got legged up, by god she looked very small!

“But Willie always said she had the heart. We had so many great times with her it’s hard to pick out one. She gave us our first Cheltenham win and that will always be memorable. But I remember the day she done four and it was last race on the Tuesday and Willie was having a drink with us in the owners and trainers, and I just said to him, ‘This time 12 months Willie, all going well we could equal Golden Miller’s record,’ and he looked at me and said ‘I was thinking more along the lines that this time 24 months, we’ll set a new record.’

“And he made it happen. To get her there six years running is a feat but to get her to win six times consecutively, five of them without a prep run, it was an extraordinary achievement. A huge credit goes to David Porter who looked after her so well also.”

And now it’s time to do it all over again with the next generation. While O’Brien is relaxed about his big chance next week, he admits that thoughts of the Festival consume him for every waking hour in these two weeks before.

“To go there with a live contender, that’s all I want out of life and sport, it’s number one for this period of time in the year. It is all consuming for a few weeks every year. When it works, it’s brilliant, but if it doesn’t work, we put up with that too and shake the winner’s hand.

“It’s different this year with Facile Vega, because of who Mammy was, it will be a different type of success.”

Quevega is truly the gift that keeps on giving, and plenty are willing to bet there will be another present for her owners at around 5:35 on Wednesday evening.