2021 Cheltenham Tips – 33/1 Chance Best Bet In Murky Mares Hurdle Picture
2021 Mares Hurdle Tips
In the latest of his series oc Cheltenham Festival previews. Lewis Tomlinson tackles the Mares Hurdle, one of the main Grade 1 races on day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival. It usually pays to side with Willie Mullins, who has a fantastic recoed in the race.
Mares Hurdle Overview
The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle was added to the Festival programme in 2008 and was upgraded to Grade 1 status for the first time in 2015. The race has been dominated by Irish trainers, in no small part due to the exploits of Quevega, who won six consecutive renewals for Willie Mullins from 2009 to 2014.
Key Contenders – Honeysuckle
After a year of change like no other in the 12 months preceding the race, the script for this year’s running of the Mares’ Hurdle could look eerily similar to what we had on paper last March. The difference this year, though, is that the roles of the performers are reversed. Honeysuckle), no longer the newcomer, now holds the crown as the paragon of the division.
A six-time Grade 1 winner, Henry De Bromhead’s mare remains unbeaten after producing a career-best to boss the Irish Champion Hurdle for the second year running last weekend. She’s likely to go off one of the hottest favourites of the meeting if, as seemed likely for most of the season, she were to run in the Mares’ Hurdle once more.
But it wouldn’t be the Cheltenham Festival without a late curveball and there is a caveat surrounding Honeysuckle’s participation here; connections are seemingly now keener on a tilt at the Champion Hurdle- and who would blame them, such was the dominance of her victory over Ireland’s best two-mile geldings at Leopardstown- than a defence of her Mares’ Crown. Her absence would really throw this race wide open.
Willie Mullins’ isn’t used to playing the underdog in this event; his two-year spell without taking this prize back to Closutton is the biggest drought- if you can call it that- since the race’s foundation. He’ll be hoping last season’s Dawn Run winner Concertista can crown her fine season by adding to Mullins’ exceptional record in this race, and without Honeysuckle, looks likely to be sent off favourite here.
She’s never been truly extended in two victories so far this campaign, on both occasions beating Henry de Bromhead’s useful yardstick Minella Melody (28-1), who underperformed when beaten favourite in the Dawn Run last season but would have place claims on her best form.
Concertista shapes like a speedier type than Honeysuckle and would undoubtedly be best suited if the race turned into somewhat of a sprint, though that’s not to say she lacks for stamina and will have no issue over this trip. Her fine Cheltenham record- she was also second in the 2019 Dawn Run on her very first hurdles start- is another plus for the Mullins mare.
It’s probably fair to say her form against her own sex isn’t quite at the tip-top level just yet, still yet to face a rival rated higher than 150, but she’s improved every start over the past year, and as an all but confirmed runner, merits her place near the head of the current market.
Benie Des Dieux
Mullins may also call upon the 2018 champion Benie Des Dieux, whose only defeats for her curren trainer have come in the last two renewals this race; falling at the last when clear in 2019 and when beaten a half-length by Honeysuckle last season, in no small part down to Rachael Blackmore’s masterclass aboard the winner.
The four-time Grade 1 winner won’t be seen before the Festival, where she also has the option of the Stayers’ Hurdle, and may feature amongst the entries in the Mares’ Chase, but she’d be foolish to discount wherever she runs. We don’t have anything to go on with regards to her wellbeing this season, but Mullins repeatedly won this with Quevega without a prep run and Benie Des Dieux’s overall form across the past two years is arguably the best on show, certainly her French Champion Hurdle win in 2019 as impressive anything Honeysuckle has achieved.
Maybe not quite the undisputed best of her sex anymore, she’s still Honeysuckle’s equal on official figures and Mullins certainly will feel hard done by by the way race panned out last season. Will he send Benie Des Dieux to right that wrong here?
The Mares’ Chase also looks to be a possibility for last season’s Coral Cup winner Dame De Compagnie (16-1), who beat Cornerstone Lad in a match race on her chasing debut, as it does for the grey Elimay (20-1), who produced a career-best over fences last time when second to Allaho in a Thurles Grade 2.
2019 winner Roksana has improved for the step up to three miles this season, winning Grade 2s at Wetherby and Ascot in stylish fashion either side of her fine third behind Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk, and the likeable mare looks likelier to stay over the extended trip. It is interesting to see, though, whether the likely absence of Honeysuckle, and the potential no-show of Benie Des Dieux, may tempt the Skelton team to drop back in trip for a theoretically easier task than taking on geldings. This trip is probably short of her best nowadays, but it’s far from a drastic difference and she’d pose a threat to Concertisa if lining up here.
If you’ve not quite followed all that, the long story short is this could be a race which cuts up between now and March, which makes me think an each-way case can be made for Black Tears.
She was runner-up, conceding 4lbs, to Dame De Compagnie in the Coral Cup last season, and though solidly put in her place behind Concertista last time, she has no other Graded Festival entries and has proven form at the meeting, so may represent some ante-post value as her best form wouldn’t see her light years away from making the first three.
Another Festival veteran, Verdana Blue, hasn’t shown her best form yet this season, though was given a noticeably quiet ride by Nico de Boinville when eighth in the International last time out.
The former Grade 1 winner has always looked better suited by a flat track (she remains 0-5 at Cheltenham) and hasn’t been asked to go this far since 2017. She’d be of more interest to me in a race like the County Hurdle than she would be here.
Great White Shark
Indefatigable (33-1), winner of last season’s Martin Pipe, hasn’t shown her form so far this season and would need a career best anyway, whilst the third, Great White Shark improved again during the summer and can be forgiven her disappointing run when favourite the Galmoy last month on account of the extreme heavy ground. I wouldn’t be surprised if saw better from her here, but she too needs a significant step forward to take this.
Mares Hurdle Big-Race Verdict
VERDICT- Honeysuckle is the by far likeliest winner if she runs here, and absence would undoubtedly change the complexion of the race. That would leave Concertista as the most attractive ante-post proposition, especially with questions over the Festival target for Benie Des Dieux. I’d be keener on the older mare than Concertista if both were to line up, though, but it’s to hard a recommend backing her at the current price without certainty she’ll run here.
Black Tears needs to improve to win, but everything about the way this race is likely to set up will suit her and she’s a fair each-way price. It’s definitely a messy one from this far in advance.