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The Mares’ Hurdle has been an event at Cheltenham Festival that has been dominated by Willie Mullins, who has won nine of the 11 races since its inception in 2008.
Mullins has held a monopoly with his charges, none more so than Quevega, who won the race six years in a row with Ruby Walsh in the saddle.
Apple’s Jade broke Mullins’ run of victories in 2017, winning the event for Gordon Elliott. However, Benie Des Dieux put Mullins back in charge last season with a fine performance to defeat his rival.
The reigning champion has been considered the favourite once again and he appears to be a lock at the top given the fact that Apple’s Jade should be in action in the Champion Hurdle.
It will take a special effort from the rest of the field to defeat Benie Des Dieux at Cheltenham Festival.
The French-bred horse has an excellent opportunity to close out a second win on the bounce in the event. Her major rivals Apple’s Jade and Laurina should be declaring for the Champion Hurdle rather than the Mares’ to face off against Buveur D’Air. It leaves Benie Des Dieux without a challenger of note, although there are quality horses in the field. The bay mare did have a run of form ahead of the event last season, which she has not been able to enjoy this term.
Benie Des Dieux’s last appearance came at the end of the last campaign in the Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle where she delivered a fine performance to close out a comfortable win. It has been a long time since Mullins’ charge has taken to the track and her win at Cheltenham Festival last term was not completely dominant, finishing half-a-length ahead of Midnight Tour. Benie Des Dieux will still have to rise to the occasion and given her odds for the event it could be worth looking elsewhere for value, despite the confidence of her trainer.
Alan King’s Midnight Tour almost denied Benie Des Dieux last season at Cheltenham Festival down the stretch, but King’s charge was narrowly beaten by half-a-length. He does not bring the same horse to the event this term, although Mia’s Storm has had proven quality in the National Hunt this season.
She made her first appearance of the campaign at Uttoxeter in the Weatherbys VAT Services Handicap Hurdle. The Irish-bred horse was a 4/1 outsider, although she was able to lay down a strong performance to claim the win ahead of race favourite Boreham Bill by four lengths.
Mia’s Storm was able to follow her victory with a stronger outing in the Mares’ Hurdle at Kempton Park in November. Although she made a mistake early in the race, Wayne Hutchinson in the saddle got his charge into a rhythm and was able to pull her away from the field to close out a triumph by two lengths. Given King’s history in the race, Mia’s Storm could be worth a shout at least on an each-way punt.
Mullins has the second favourite for the race behind Benie Des Dieux at his disposal, although he could move Limini elsewhere. Given her form it’s unlikely, although she was once a fine runner in her own right, finishing third in the Mares’ Hurdle two years ago behind Apple’s Jade and Vroum Vroum Mag.
Since then she has only recorded one victory in her last eight races, although Limini did miss considerable time due to injury. Mullins’ charge missed Cheltenham Festival last season and has not been the same horse since her return to action. Limini did record a win a triumph by a head in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Handicap, defeating her nearest rival by a head. In December, the pace of Apple’s Jade blew away Limini and rest of the field in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
The chestnut mare was the favourite for the Irish EBF Mares Hurdle at Leopardstown, but she struggled for rhythm with Ruby Walsh in the saddle, placing down in third behind her stable-mates Good Thyne Tara and Elimay. She endured another underwhelming run at the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle as Presenting Percy claimed a comfortable win, with Limini finishing in fourth. It would be a surprise to see her claim the Mares’ Hurdle crown.
The Mullins’ procession continues with a rising star in the form of Stormy Ireland. The five-year-old has impressed with his performances over the course of the National Hunt campaign and could be in line for a breakout at Cheltenham Festival. Stormy Ireland’s solid term began at the Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle at Punchestown. She was the favourite for the event and duly delivered a dominant run to close out a victory ahead of her stable-mate Good Thyne Tara.
The French-bred horse suffered a setback at the Irish Independent Hurdle where she was off the pace with Paul Townend in the saddle. Stormy Ireland lacked a surge down the stretch to chase down Espoir D’Allen, losing out by eight lengths. Mullins’ charge faced off against her stable-mate Laurina at the Quevega Mares Hurdle, and although she put forward a strong outing, the quality of the senior partner shone through down the final furlong to close out the win. Stormy Ireland is a good horse, but not quite at the level yet to compete for the crown.
If Apple’s Jade and Laurina were competing in the event it would be a thrilling race between three outstanding mares. However, given that the two horses have been declared for the Champion Hurdle, it leaves the path clear of Benie Des Dieux to clinch a second crown on the bounce.
It is reflected in her odds at 11/10 2.10 +110 1.10 1.10 -0.91 with 888Sport, but there doesn’t appear to be a challenger in the field ready to take her on unless King and Mia’s Storm can rise to the occasion or Limini can roll back the years.