I have been a bit sparce with my Ante-Post selections for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival so far in truth, but I have plenty building up to be released over the coming weeks (and days!) so look out for them. Following on from an interesting rearranged card at Thurles on Wednesday however two Mares have really thrown their hat into the ring for the Mares Chase – but it might not be the Mare you expected that I fancy for Cheltenham glory.
Willie Mullins is brilliant with his Mares, and he now looks to have a mob hand on the new Mares Chase as you would probably expect. Now don’t get me wrong, I thought Colreevy put in a lovely performance in the Grade 2 Mares Novice Chase on Wednesday – where she won by an easy 12 lengths back to Mount Ida. Whilst that is grand and she jumped well however, that rival was ony rated 134 over Hurdles so it’s nothing short of what you’d expect, and the fact that Colreevy will be a Novice Chaser running under a penalty in an open-company race at Cheltenham cools my optimism for her chances. With that in mind, I’m willing to take her on at the Festival with a Mare who ran in the very next race at Thurles…
Elimay started her career with C Lerner in France, where she placed twice in Listed Hurdles and twice in Grade 3 Hurdles as a three-year-old. Snapped up for €310,000 by JP McManus she then went into training with Willie Mullins. Given plenty of time to adapt to her new surroundings (and of course a new country!) as Willie so often does, Elimay made her Irish debut 420 days after her last start at Auteuil – running in a 2m4f Grade 3 Mares Hurdle at Leopardstown in December 2018, and beaten only 0.5 lengths by Good Thyne Tara (145), when also having Limini (147) behind. Given a break of 73 days she then headed straight to the 2019 2m4f Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham – but she was probably just a bit too inexperienced, and only could manage a 6th placed finish. Despite being beaten however, the experience of going to the Festival won’t be lost on her when returning in March.
After that race she bolted up in a conditions Hurdle at Punchestown and a Listed Hurdle at Killarney in May 2019, before then returning to the track for a Novice Chase campaign last Autumn. Making her Chase debut in a Grade 3 Mares Novice Chase at Cork in December 2019, Elimay comfortably won by 5 lengths – beating a solid yardstick in Augusta Gold (146) without much fuss. She then went to Thurles 12 months ago when running in the Grade 2 that Colreevy won on Wednesday – where she stayed on strongly and pinged the last to score by 9 lengths from Cut The Mustard (140), with Augusta Gold even further behind on this occasion.
Elimay made her return to the track this season at Punchestown in November, where she ran in a 2m2½f Mares Hurdle. Running a belter of race for her reappearance, Elimay put in a really game performance when only just touched off a nose by stablemate Buildmeupbuttercup (145) – but she was having her 6th race of the season at the time so was clearly fitter of the two rivals. The pair pulled 12 lengths clear of Black Tears (147) that day mind, so the form certainly has a strong look to it. The performance that rates Elimay as having the best chance of winning the Mares Chase to me however is her run in the 2m4f Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles on Wednesday. Well supported in the market before the off, Elimay ran a massive race once again – coming off the bridle to make a strong looking challenge at the final flight. Although she was eventually seen off by stablemate Allaho (160), it was clearly a very pleasing performance to finish that close to what is a Grade 1 Horse – and on only her third start over fences she has shown that her level of form is beyond that of just in Novice company. Another really pleasing aspect of that performance is the fact that the pair pulled 79 lengths clear of the third placed Annamix (153) – who himself is a useful yard stick. It’s not something I always look at, but the time comparisons make for interesting reading too – with the race won by Allaho run in 5m33.8s, and the race won by Colreevy run in 5m37.8s.
Looking at the Mares Chase market quickly makes you realise that Elimay looks a decent bet, as there are question marks surrounding the majority of the potential runners currently heading the market. Now that Willie Mullins has Colreevy and Elimay I’m doubtful he will send Benie Des Dieux here on her seasonal reappearance – and Ruby seemed to share those sentiments even before the pair ran at Thurles on Wednesday. The talk with Put The Kettle On is that she will go for the Champion Chase (and why not?!), Honeysuckle obviously won’t be running here, and Elfile is yet to be seen since the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, yet alone jump a fence. I’m sure she will end up running here, but even connections of Dame De Compagnie weren’t sure where they would go with her at Cheltenham – and besides she has only had one start over fences so far. Robin De Carlow hasn’t been seen since October 2019, and Daylight Katie is another who is yet to Jump a fence. I don’t believe Magic Of Light is due to run either, with her target being the Grand National at Aintree in April. With this all considered, Elimay quicky looks a good each/way bet.
Looking at the quotes regarding Colreevy and Elimay respectively after their races at Thurles on Wednesday, Willie Mullins went onto say:
WILLIE MULLINS, IrishRacing.com 27/01/21
“There’s a Grade 2 chase at Limerick in March that we’re looking at next [for Colreevy] but whether or not she has higher expectations I don’t know. We might revise plans but we’ll see; whether or not she has enough experience over fences to go to Cheltenham is another day’s work. Certainly what she has done at Limerick over Christmas and today would lead you to think she might have as good a chance as anything over there.”
“Elimay ran a fantastic race as well and she will go for the Opera Hat Chase in Naas next and maybe on to the mares’ chase in Cheltenham after that.”
Clearly there is no point in double guessing Willie Mullins considering his record of ‘Cheltenham bingo’ down the years, but it is worth noting that his initial thoughts were to run Colreevy in the Grade 2 Mares Novice Chase at Limerick on Sunday 14th March – just 5 days before the Mares Chase at Cheltenham. Elimay on the other hand is due to run in the Listed Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas on the 13th February, before then going straight onto the Cheltenham Festival for the Mares Chase a month later. At this current stage then, even the current Ante-Post favourite Colreevy could be a doubtful runner, whereas we at least know Elimay will be targeted at the race in all probability.
With plenty due to either not run or at least be doubtful for the race, this looks the perfect type of race to get involved with at an Ante-Post stage. Regardless of who does end up running in this inaugural Mares Chase however, Elimay will bring solid open-company Graded form to the table following on from her run behind Allaho (160) – who himself is now 6/1 second favourite for the 2m4f Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at the Festival. Despite only having had 3 runs over fences so far Elimay is already a Grade 2 and Grade 3 winner over the larger obstacles, and the 2m4f Mares Chase looks made for her – with Mark Walsh a top Jockey to have on board. Colreevy clearly rates a big danger, but she will carry a Grade 1 penalty as a Novice in an open-company race, which I think makes her worth taking on. There’s also the possibility that Colreevy goes to Limerick on the 14th March for a Grade 2 Mares Novice Chase instead.
Good luck! – Jake Price