Ante-Post Preview #3 – 05/02/2019
2m4f OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – Tuesday 12th March 2019
The Mares’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 contest ran over an intermediate trip of two-miles-four-furlongs, and is only eligible for female horses. There have been some fantastic renewals in the past such as when Apple’s Jade saw off Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in 2017, with the former winning this contest in 2016. Superstar Mare Quevega dominated the race for six years running between 2009-2014, but arguably the biggest claim to fame for the Mares Hurdle was when Annie Power fell at the last in 2015, costing punters millions. However you feel about there being a Championship race for female horses at the Cheltenham Festival, it clearly has thrown up some fantastic horses.
With the connections of both Apple’s Jade and Laurina stating that their respective horses are going to go for the Champion Hurdle in five weeks’ time, bookies seem to have been caught napping with the reigning Champion Mare. Willie Mullins’ latest update on Benie Des Dieux states that the Mare is set to run in either the 2m Grade 3 Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park (16th February) or the 2m4f Listed Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown (20th February). Laurina’s current plan is the inverse of this, with Willie Mullins explaining that Benie Des Dieux is more likely to go to Gowran at this current stage. Mullins also confirmed that the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham is her main target for the year.
Last season saw Benie Des Dieux really burst onto the scene for Closutton Handler Willie Mullins, with the now eight-year-old returning from a 339 break to win a Listed Mares’ Chase at Carlisle in December 2017. This daughter of Great Pretender followed that up with another Listed Mares’ Chase victory at Naas in February last year, with that race ultimately serving as her Cheltenham warm up. Despite not running over Hurdles since joining Closutton from France, the Rich Ricci runner took her place in the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle and won it by half-a-length, staying on extremely well to see off Midnight Tour and the odds-on favourite Apple’s Jade. That rival has obviously shown another level this year in winning the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle and Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle by a combined 62 lengths, but there still can’t be a bigger form boost than that for our selection. Not only did Benie Des Dieux see off Apple’s Jade once last season, but she repeated the trick at the Punchestown Festival in April, again allowed to go off a very backable price before beating the odds-on Gigginstown Mare. This victory was even more impressive than Cheltenham, scoring by three-lengths back to Augusta Kate, with Apple’s Jade a further two-and-a-half lengths behind. You can’t get too far carried away with the form due to excuses for her main rival, however Apple’s Jade won’t be in the race this season – which will be a big help!
When you look through the Mares’ Hurdle you really struggle to find a horse capable of beating Benie Des Dieux, with Limini well beaten behind stablemate Good Thyne Tara over Christmas, before what was admittedly a good effort behind Presenting Percy over three-miles last time out. Stormy Ireland has never raced over two-and-a-half miles and Lady Buttons only just got home from a 132 rated rival when last seen at Doncaster. Running through the rest of the field seems a little redundant as Willie Mullins has an outstanding record in the race, winning nine of the eleven renewals to date. I’m firmly of the belief that Benie Des Dieux is the best of the intended runners at the entries stage, and the only worry would be if Laurina were to be switched to this race. Her owner Jared Sullivan is very keen to have a crack at the Champion Hurdle however, and I’m sure Ruby Walsh would want to keep the two separated. At the prices I’m willing to take a punt on the reigning Queen of Cheltenham to regain her crown as she will definitely run (barring any setbacks) – and if the other two Mares do take up their intended Champion Hurdle engagement – then she will be at most an even-money chance on the day. I know it’s a short price to take Ante-Post, however it could turn out to be value come March.
Benie Des Dieux @ 3/1
Good luck! – Jake Price