The Mares Champion Hurdle promises to be an enthralling contest with recent Aintree winner Epatante and Cheltenham Festival winner Marie’s Rock both set to feature for trainer Nicky Henderson. Our expert editor has previewed the Grade 1 contest and gives their thoughts on each of the nine runners.
Trainer Willie Mullins has a tremendous record in this Grade 1 contest, winning seven of the last eight runnings. He runs four in this year’s renewal but it would be somewhat surprising if he were to add to his impressive tally with BURNING VICTORY.
The 2020 Triumph Hurdle winner struggled for consistency over hurdles this season and arguably has run her best races on the level – winning two staying handicaps in France before finishing runner-up in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket.
A distant third behind Flooring Porter and stablemate Klassical Dream back in December in the Christmas Hurdle, the mare returned to winning ways back in this sphere when defeating Queens Brook in Grade 3 Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown.
Several lengths behind Stormy Ireland, Mrs Milner and Marie’s Rock at the Cheltenham Festival last month, the six-year-old has failed to make an impact in the top grade and with plenty of form to turn around this Saturday, Burning Victory is readily passed over.
Willie Mullins’ second representative is DYSART DIAMOND who looks set for a difficult test as she makes her first start against established Grade 1 performers.
A winner of a valuable Grade B handicap at Listowel back in September, the seven-year-old lined up in Listed company at Punchestown and recorded her fifth career success, staying on well under pressure to win by half a length.
Soundly beaten on her following starts at Leopardstown and Punchestown in Grade 3 company, Dysart Diamond was then twenty-three lengths behind stablemate State Man in the County Hurdle at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.
The seven-year-old is impossible to recommend now upped further in grade and would be a shock winner.
Although yet to get off the mark this week at Punchestown, Nicky Henderson’s string has all run well in defeat and the master of Seven Barrows will be confident one of his two runners in her can land the spoils.
2020 Champion Hurdle winner EPATANTE heads the British charge after winning three of her last four starts. Dead heating for first in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Nicky Henderson’s talented hurdler was left with a penalty kick when landing her second victory in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Returning for another tilt at Festival glory, the eight-year-old mare ran a superb race to chase home unbeaten mare Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle – a bad mistake at the last ultimately costing her from finishing closer to Henry de Bromhead’s stable star.
Upped in trip to 2m4f for the first time, the mare confirmed her Festival run was no fluke when registering her sixth Grade 1 success in the Aintree Hurdle, travelling powerfully and seeing out the trip well to defeat Monmiral by fourteen lengths.
Lining up against her own sex on Saturday afternoon, Nicky Henderson’s mare should take the world of beating if those two recent efforts at Cheltenham and Aintree haven’t left a mark.
Another runner that comes here in smart form is MARIE’S ROCK who has also won three of her last four starts and is beginning to confirm the promise she showed a few seasons back as a four-year-old.
Clearly not the easiest to train, Nicky Henderson’s charge built on her opening outings at Wetherby and Cheltenham when running away with a Class 3 handicap hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day by seven lengths.
Pulled up when well fancied for the Lanzarote hurdle over the same course and distance on her following start, Marie’s Rock landed her second Listed prize when defeating subsequent scorer Get A Tonic by three lengths at Warwick.
Although seemingly unfancied in the market for the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham when last seen, the seven-year-old mare made no mistake, staying on well in the closing stages to defeat Queens Brook in what was a very competitive renewal.
Nicky Henderson’s progressive charge is hard to leave out of the reckoning this weekend, however, she enjoyed a trouble-free passage at the festival when last seen and a few of her former rivals may get closer this time around.
One of those runners who were severely hampered at the Festival last time out was MRS MILNER, who was in the process of running a big race in the Mares’ Hurdle until Indefatigable and Telmesomethinggirl fell in front of her two from the finish.
Losing all momentum, as a result, the seven-year-old somehow managed to regather her stride and rallied strongly to finish third after the final flight – an extraordinary run in defeat given the circumstances.
A four-time winner over hurdles, the mare is clearly capable of landing a blow in Saturday’s Grade 1 contest and will be doing all her best work at the finish. However, Paul Nolan’s team are in poor form at present (0-16) and it’s likely his mare will need a career-best effort to land this.
The outsider of the field POLITESSE would be a shock winner after trailing home forty-four lengths behind Langer Dan in Grade 3 company at Aintree earlier this month.
A convincing winner on his opening chase start in May last year at Punchestown, the eight-year-old has just one hurdle victory to her name and that sole success came in maiden company at Thurles back in March 2020.
Readily beaten by twenty lengths in this very race twelve months ago, Politesse is impossible to recommend on any known form and looks destined for last place.
The least exposed runner in the field is SHEWEARSITWELL who appeared to be a smart prospect when racking up a hat-trick of wins for trainer Willie Mullins back in 2020.
A comfortable winner of a Galway bumper, the Shirocco mare made a successful transition to timber at Sligo, justifying prohibitive odds and running out an eighth length winner in maiden company.
Pitched into Grade 3 company following that opening hurdle victory, the mare maintained her unbeaten start with an effortless win under Paul Townend at Tipperary, once again coming home eight lengths in front at the line.
Returning from a mammoth absence of 451 days, Shewearsitwell was fancied to score again in Grade 3 company ay Leopardstown last December but ultimately came to grief at the fourth flight after making a shuddering mistake at the previous obstacle.
That tumble may have left its mark on the seven-year-old and she is certainly not one for maximum faith following that latest performance.
STORMY IRELAND returned to Willie Mullins’ yard last season following a failed spell in Britain with Paul Nicholls and the eight-year-old was quick to return to winning ways back on home soil, defeating French Dynamite in Grade 2 company at Fairyhouse before making all to win by seven lengths in the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
No match for Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace following a 177-day break, Willie Mullins’ mare soon regained the winning thread, landing the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle from subsequent scorer Mcfabulous at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Sent back to Prestbury Park to contest the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle, the eight-year-old underperformed when sent off 7/2 market leader, lacking a crucial gear change in the closing stages when finishing fourth behind Mrs Milner and Marie’s Rock.
Last year’s winner is entitled to respect this time around, however, this is by far a stronger renewal than what she contested twelve months ago and others are preferred for win purposes.
Owner Keneth Alexander will hopefully be celebrating another victory for Honeysuckle on Friday afternoon and his colours will be represented by another talented mare in the form of TELMESOMETHINGGIRL, who has shown a decent level of form herself and was in the process of running a mighty race at Cheltenham last time out.
A former Cheltenham Festival winner, Telmesomethinggirl was travelling supremely well towards the outside of the field under jockey Rachael Blackmore when contesting the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle, however, the seven-year-old was unfortunate to be brought down two from the finish after Indefatigable fell right in front of her.
Henry de Bromhead’s four-time winner looked destined to fight out the finish before her unfortunate Festival exit and it would be no surprise to see the mare make amends this weekend if avoiding any trouble.
Big Race Verdict
Of the Henderson duo, Epatante is the obvious starting point following a fluent success on her first start beyond two miles. The multiple Grade 1 winner has to be given the utmost respect, however, she has had a couple of short turnarounds and might be worth taking on at the prices. With that being said, TELMESOMETHINGGIRL is attractively priced and would have gone close at the Festival if for not been brought down. Henry de Bromhead’s mare is smart on her day and a big run looks assured. Mrs Milner was also badly interfered with during that same race and while Paul Nolan’s yard is not exactly firing on all cylinders at present, she still should run well and can fight out the places.