Category Archives: Mares Hurdle

Mares Hurdle – An Overview

The Quevega Factor

When looking at the Mares’ Hurdle, I’m not going to use the same stats as I did when looking at other races. The reason for this is that Quevega won 6 of the last 10 races, so any win figures would be completely skewed by whether Quevega fit the criteria, as in turn would any win%, P/L(BF), and A/E figures. However, I still want to try to find an angle into the race, so I’m going to focus not only on the winners but also on the placed horses. So, my main way of taking on this race is by comparing the percentage of the total field which fit a stat to the percentage of the total places filled by these horses.

Stamina

This race is (interestingly) run over 2m 4f. There’s no grade one hurdle run over a middle distance at the festival open to all horses (there is this race, for mares, and the Ballymore for novices) and the argument is that if they were to introduce one, it would dilute the quality of both the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers Hurdle (the latter doesn’t tend to be a particularly exciting division anyway and doesn’t need its quality diluted any more). A few weeks later, there’s a grade one over this trip at Aintree’s Grand National meeting so any horse which isn’t quite suited to 2 miles or 3 miles gets their chance there.

The distance is often a forgotten factor in this race, though. People forget that at 2m 4f, it is a test of stamina, not just pure speed like the 2m Champion Hurdle that takes place before it. All of the last 10 winners had won over this exact distance. These horses accounted for 18 of the total places – that’s 60% of the total places from 38% of the total field. If we were to count Quevega as just one winner for a moment, forgetting about her other 5 wins, this would be 52% of the total places from 37% of the total field – still an over-performance. Looking at horses which had previously won over 2m 4f or further, these horses took up 28 of the 30 total places on offer.

Britain v Ireland

All of the last 10 winners were Irish-trained (in fact, 9 of them were trained by Willie Mullins and the other, Apples Jade, moved to Willie Mullins’ yard from Michael O’Leary’s following the Gigginstown split). Irish-trained horses accounted for 18 of the 30 horses which made the frame – that’s 60% of the total places on offer from 27% of the total field. It would appear that the Irish have taken notice of the lucrative rewards that are now on offer for having top-class mares in training a bit quicker than the British. The form of the top-placed English finisher in the last 10 renewals reads 2224232342 – there’s often a British horse there or thereabouts, but there has always been a better Irish contender.

Class

8 of the last 10 winners won last time out and these horses over-performed significantly, filling 60% of the total places from just 28% of the total field. This points back to some recurring themes in these top festival races – firstly, form, and secondly, class. The latter might be of even more interest. 9 of the last 10 winners were officially rated 150 or higher. These horses accounted for just 11% of the total field, but they managed to fill 50% of the total places. Just 19 horses have run in the race in the last 10 years were an official rating of 150 or higher, and their form reads 7213171111F21132173. Last year was actually the exception – the two contenders were Apples Jade (3rd) and La Bague Au Roi (7th). However, it is probably worth pointing out that Apples Jade clearly wasn’t at her best last year, and we were subsequently given the explanation that she was in season.

Apples Jade – Does She Need The Run?

Every year, we hear the same rumours that certain horses are “festival bankers”. This year is no different, with 4 favourites on the Tuesday all supposedly “banker material”. However, it has paid in the past to try to pick holes in these favourites and identify reasons that it may be better to oppose them.

Apples Jade is a difficult one. Since winning this race last year, she has looked fairly bulletproof with 4 wins from 4 subsequent starts (3 of them in grade one company). However, the only real question mark over her is that she will go into the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham after a break of 75 days.

Apples Jade has won 10 times from 14 starts over hurdles. Three of her four losses do have something in common. The first came at Cheltenham in the 2016 Triumph Hurdle when she came 2nd behind Ivanovich Gorbatov. Interestingly, this came after a break of 83 days (she hadn’t run since Leopardstown over Christmas). After this, she went on to win two successive races at the end of the season at Aintree and Punchestown. In hindsight, one would wonder whether she needed the run at Cheltenham to shake off the cobwebs.

In the 2015/16 season, she made her seasonal debut at Down Royal following a break of 188 days. She was beaten into 2nd that day behind Rashaan in what was probably the most disappointing performance of her career. She ran again just 3 weeks later in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, finishing 2nd behind Irving. Again, she was the beaten favourite, but after this shorter break her performance was far better than on her seasonal debut. Yet again, one would wonder whether she needed the break to shake off the cobwebs.

After another quick turnaround, she ran in the Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in early December and won (narrowly beating Vroum Vroum Mag). This was to be her last start for 80 days, until she ran at Punchestown in late February. Again, she was beaten after a break, finishing 2 lengths behind Limini. However, just a couple of weeks later she would go on to reverse this form at the Cheltenham Festival, and finished off the season with another win at Punchestown.

This season has been slightly different. Her first start of the season came at Navan in November and she did win despite the break of 197 days. She probably still improved from that start to the next, winning the Hattons Grace for a second consecutive year before winning at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Despite having been beaten following a break after Christmas in each of the last two years, the decision has been made to run fresh at Cheltenham. However, her form after a break of over 50 days now reads 12221, compared to 11211111 after a shorter period off the track.

The Opposition

While opposition looked scarce, Willie Mullins announced last week that 2016 winner Vroum Vroum Mag will in fact return to the race this year, hoping to reverse the form with Apples Jade from last year’s race.

Vroum Vroum Mag has won 7 times from 11 starts over hurdles – however, she has also won once from 4 starts in bumpers and has a perfect record of 6 wins from 6 chase starts. We’ll ignore 6 of these starts (her first 6 runs in bumpers and over hurdles in France) and focus on her career since moving to Willie Mullins’ yard.

She was unbeaten in her first two seasons with Mullins, the second of which culminated in a victory in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle a few weeks later in April 2016. She then faced a long break and wasn’t seen for 219 days before running in the Hattons Grace at Fairyhouse. She was beaten that day by Apples Jade but ran more or less to form. She went on to win the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown and the grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster at the end of January before heading to the 2017 Cheltenham Festival to be beaten by Apples Jade again. After that, she was 6/4 favourite for the Punchestown Champion Hurdle but was well beaten in 7th – her first ever real underperformance. It later emerged that she had been injured.

Throughout this season, it has been unclear whether Vroum Vroum Mag would stay in training or go to be covered. The decision has been made to run her at Cheltenham, but having her covered is still considered a strong option later on in the season. Mullins’ comments were simply, “She’s in great shape. I didn’t think we’d get her back. She hasn’t been covered yet, but we have plenty of time and she could well be later in the year.”

Of course, if Apples Jade is expected to need the run then the same should be said for Vroum Vroum Mag. However, a look through her past form wouldn’t suggest that there’s any real history of needing a run – she seems to perform to the same standard when fresh as she does when she has run recently. Coming here without having run this season may seem like a negative, but Mullins is more than capable of getting a horse fit and ready for the big day without running them that season. Quevega won this race in 2011, 2013 and 2014 without having run earlier in the season, while Arctic Fire won the County Hurdle without having seen a racecourse last season. Overall at the Cheltenham festival, Mullins has had 4 wins and a place from 11 runners which had yet to run that season.