2019 Mares’ Hurdle Preview

Benie des Dieux lands the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2018

Will Reilly takes a look at this year’s OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival

OLBG Mares’ Hurdle

Tuesday March 12th, 4:10pm

This race has become the property of Willie Mullins, who has won it nine times in the last ten years – six-time winner Quevega (2009-14), Glens Melody (2015), Vroum Vroum Mag (2016) and Benie des Dieux (last year).

The winner two years ago was Apple’s Jade, trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott. The only British winner of the race so far is Whiteoak, who won for Donald McCain in the inaugural staging of the 2m4f contest in 2008.

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The plan is for Benie des Dieux to defend her crown, even though she will head into the race without a prep run this season.  She is unbeaten in five runs since she joined Willie from France although she has never raced for him on ground quicker than yielding to soft.

With Apple’s Jade and Laurina both expected to run in the Champion Hurdle, she must hold a very good chance of defending her crown.

With the market betting 25/1 bar six (and these six include Apple’s Jade and Laurina), there are not many that are given a serious chance by the betting. Even so, there has to be value out there somewhere.

Others to consider

Ones to consider are Limini (Willie Mullins), 8/1 at the time of writing, who has steadily improved as the season has gone on and always seems better with a bit of sun on her back. Her jumping wins in Ireland have all come between January and May, and these include the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.

Also worth a look is Limini’s stable-companion Stormy Ireland (8/1), who was running well when falling in the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival last year and who found, as most do, Laurina too hot to handle at Punchestown last time. She goes on good ground and holds sound each-way claims.

Britain’s strongest hopes seem to lie with Lady Buttons (12/1), winner of all four of her races so far this season for Phil Kirby, who has had a fine year, and Roksana (14/1, Dan Skelton), who won a Grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle at Newbury last March before running second in a Grade 1 contest at Aintree (which was run over an extended-three miles).

She has had just one run this year, when third to Buveur d’Air at Sandown in February so will come into this race fresh. She’s lightly-raced and talented and, if peaking on the big day, ought to run well.

After an unusually quiet spell, her stable was back among the winners towards the end of February, which is always good to see.

Bigger prices

At bigger prices, it’s entirely likely that we haven’t seen the best of Apple’s Shakira (20/1, Nicky Henderson). A full-sister to Apple’s Jade, she began her British career in style November 2017/January 2018, but didn’t quite continue that impression into the spring.

She’d been off for nine months before running unplaced at Sandown last time (sent off as 5/2 fav), but I wouldn’t rule out a better performance next time, which may come in a handicap as opposed to this race. She may well even turn up in headgear next time.

Alan King’s Mia’s Storm (16/1) beat If You Say Run by two lengths in a mares’ Listed Hurdle at Kempton when last seen (November 25, 2018). She’s won six of her last eight hurdle races, having won twice and fallen twice when trying chasing last season.

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Benie des Dieux at 6/5 is a worthy favourite but my two against her would be Limini (8/1) and Roksana (14/1).

Prices correct at the time of publication

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*Odds were correct at time of publishing the article