We have all you need to know about the mares' championship and the fourth and final Grade One race of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festivall. Enjoy every moment from the great meeting live on Racing TV!
What Grade? Grade One. What course? Old Course. What Distance? 2m 4f (10 hurdles).
Prize money? £88,500
Ages: 4yo+. Weights & Allowances: 10st 10lb (4yo). 11st 5lb (5yo+)
Sponsor: Close Brothers
The favourite has won seven times in the 15 renewals of this race to date, but you would have come out with a loss despite the high strike-rate and bigger-priced runners are hitting the target in recent years. Last year's winner Marie's Rock (18-1) was the biggest-priced winner of the race so far.
All the same, watch out for short-priced favourites trained by Willie Mullins - his five-time winner Quevega dominates the Mares' Hurdle honours board and the trainer has seven winners from the 13 favourites he's sent out in this race. He's unlucky it's not nine winners, too, after the infamous final-flight fall of Annie Power in 2015 and the similar fate of Benie Des Dieux in 2019.
Twelve of the 15 winners have been trained in Ireland, with Gordon Elliott also winning the race twice along with the dominant Mullins. Marie's Rock struck for the home team last year but Ireland had the next four home.
· 14 of the past 15 winners had at least five previous runs over hurdles and at least two wins over hurdles.
· 10 of the past 15 winners were rated 150 or higher.
· 12 of the past 15 winners had won on their previous start.
The Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle was established in 2008 and run in memory of David Nicholson who enjoyed a hugely successful career in National Hunt racing as a jockey and trainer.
The Donald McCain-trained Whiteoak was victorious in the first renewal before the contest was dominated by Quevega, who recorded six consecutive victories in the race between 2009-2014.
Willie Mullins is the leading trainer with nine victories in the race, six of those courtesy of Quevega, with the other three being Glens Melody in 2015, Vroum Vroum Mag in 2016 and Benie Des Dieux in 2018.
All-time leading Cheltenham Festival rider Ruby Walsh is the most successful jockey in the race having been on board all of Willie Mullins’ winners, bar Glens Melody who was ridden to victory by Paul Townend. Jason Maguire, Bryan Cooper, Harry Skelton, Rachael Blackmore and Jack Kennedy are the only other current riders to have won the race.
The two-and-a-half mile showpiece was a Grade Two contest until 2015, while the inaugural race was run on the New Course on the final day of the Festival. The contest is now one of the feature races on the opening day.
2022 - Marie's Rock
Marie’s Rock gave Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville gave a big-race double by springing a surprise in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The 18-1 shot, owned by Middleham Park Racing, collared Queens Brook up the hill to win a dramatic renewal of the Grade One contest over two and a half miles.
There was all to play for when Indefatigable fell at the second-last flight, bringing down Telmesomethinggirl, for the Honeysuckle connections of owner Kenny Alexander, trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore.
Queens Brook was left in the lead but she was soon hard pressed by Marie’s Rock, who proved the stronger to get the verdict by a length and three-quarters. Mrs Milner was the same distance away despite being hampered by the melee at the penultimate hurdle.
Henderson said: "She came back last year and we’d just lost her completely and all you can do is just sit still and wait and to be fair Epatante was missing last year too. Both girls have come right back and I’m thrilled for Tom Palin who looks after the Middleham team and all the guys. They’ve been very patient when things were going badly last year, but we always knew she was a good filly.
“First time out this year she looked as though she was back and she was very good at Warwick the last time, so we had to come here and Tom’s just been brilliant. All credit must go to Middleham Park, it’s a great operation and I’m full of admiration for them. They’ve a lot of horses and put in a lot of hard work so they deserve it."
2021 - Black Tears
Black Tears (11-1) prevailed by a head in one of the finishes of the week to land Grade One honours at just the second attempt for jockey Jack Kennedy and trainer Denise Foster.
Hot favourite Concertista (10-11F) looked the likely winner even after an untidy leap at the last, yet Kennedy would not be denied in a driving finish with Roksana (10-3) – former winner of this race – nearly three lengths further back in third.
This was a first Festival winner for Foster, the new licence holder at Cullentra House Stables after the suspension of trainer Gordon Elliott in the weeks before the meeting.
Kennedy said: “It's massive that she's won (given the recent headlines). We've gone through a bit of a tough time, but we've kept going and showed that today."
Yard representative Lisa O’Neill said: “Denise was the first one on the phone and she was absolutely over the moon as it was her first Cheltenham winner. Hopefully it won’t be her last.
“Black Tears is very genuine and consistent and this is great for her owners Aidan and Caren Walsh and John Lightfoot, as they have been brilliant supporters of Cullentra House. It is fantastic for the whole team."
2020 - Honeysuckle
Remarkable mare Honeysuckle made her first visit to the Cheltemnham Festival a triumphant one with success over the short-priced favourite Benie Des Dieux in an enthralling clash and gripping encounter under jockey Rachael Blackmore for trainer Henry de Bromhead.
Successful in open Grade One company on her two previous starts, she appreciated the step-up in trip from the minimum distance of the Irish Champion Hurdle last-time out and scored under a quality ride up the rail from Blackmore to beat Benie Des Dieux (4-6F) by half a length, with Elfile six-and-a-half lengths further back in third.
"What a ride - my God, the way she got up the inside coming around the last turn," said De Bromhead. "It was two amazing ladies together."
Blackmore said: "It's every jockey's dream to be in the position I'm in, and Cheltenham is what it is all about.
"This means so much. This mare is so special. Henry has produced her in tip-top shape every day she has run. I am the lucky one who gets to steer her round."
2019 - Roksana
Roksana emerged victorious after red-hot favourite Benie Des Dieux crashed out at the final flight.
Trainer Willie Mullins had claimed this prize nine times in the 11 previous years it had been run and Benie Des Dieux, the 10-11 favourite, had the race at her mercy when departing.
Everything went according to script for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey, with Benie Des Dieux always travelling strongly while her stablemate Stormy Ireland cut out the running.
Ruby Walsh eased Benie Des Dieux to the front before the home turn and she was well in command when she crashed through the final hurdle and came to grief – an almost carbon copy of the fall suffered by Annie Power for the same connections in this race four years earlier.
Her exit saw the Dan Skelton-trained and Harry Skelton-ridden Roksana left in front and she managed to hold the rallying Stormy Ireland at bay by two and a quarter lengths. Another Mullins runner, Good Thyne Tara, was third.
2018 - Benie Des Dieux:
Apple's Jade was sent off the well-supported 1-2 favourite to defend her crown but could only manage third as Benie Des Dieux and Midnight Tour fought out the finish to the Grade One contest.
Willie Mullins's talented mare had won her first two starts of the season over fences and was running over hurdles for the first time since November 2015.
Owner Rich Ricci was relieved that the switch back to hurdling had paid off. He said:
"She is a very tough mare. We have had a hard time getting her to run consistently and we have given her a lot of time between races, so we thought we would put her back to hurdles and it has paid off today."
2017 - Apple’s Jade:
The 2016 Triumph Hurdle runner-up, Apple’s Jade, denied Willie Mullins a ninth victory in the race when she fended off Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in a thrilling finish under Bryan Cooper.
The Gordon Elliot-trained mare, who was formerly trained by Willie Mullins, gained her fourth Grade One victory in the process and is unbeaten in four starts since.
Reflecting on the success, winning owner Michael O’Leary said: “It is a great training performance by Gordon. He gave her a run there a couple of weeks ago and felt she had come on for it.
“Apples’s Jade needed to stretch them. I thought Bryan gave her an extraordinary ride. She was down coming to the last, but she battles. They are three very good mares.
“We all love Cheltenham. The amphitheatre is incredible, and the racing is very tough."
2016 - Vroum Vroum Mag:
Sent off the well backed 4-6 favourite, Vroum Vroum Mag ran out a ready winner to maintain her unbeaten record since joining Willie Mullins from France in 2014.
She also provided owner Rich Ricci with his first success in the race and his third winner of the day after Douvan had bolted up in the Arkle and Annie Power powered to victory in the Champion Hurdle.
“It’s unbelievable,” the delighted winning owner said. “Annie Power was remarkable and very emotive. It’s a fantastic moment for the sport and this mare is also very good. We don’t know how good she is. She jumps so well.
“There was a collective roar and sigh of relief after she jumped the last after what happened to Annie last year (Annie Power had fallen at the last in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle of 2015 when leading)."
2015 - Glens Melody:
Just as Annie Power looked about to cost bookmakers millions, it was Glens Melody who took advantage of her stablemate falling at the last.
Odds-on favourite Annie Power had a clear lead and Glens Melody looked booked for second at best but, to her credit, battled bravely to fend off the late challenge of Polly Peachum after the last.
Glens Melody also provided Willie Mullins with a four-timer. The winning trainer said: “It’s rare to have four runners on a day like this, let alone four winners – I keep saying to myself ‘Enjoy it while it lasts’.
“You couldn’t write a script like that, but I just knew that all the horses were doing everything right. We had no sickness, no virus, no bad weather – it was going scarily well, and I thought coming here it was either going to be a great success or a blow-out.”
2014 - Quevega:
Quevega set a new Cheltenham Festival record when gaining her sixth consecutive victory in this race.
The record had been held by Golden Miller who won the Gold Cup five times in a row in the 1930s and, although Quevega looked in trouble at one stage, she managed to beat her stablemate Glens Melody by three-quarters of a length and create history.
It may not have been her most impressive performance visually, but was nevertheless a tremendous feat.
Trainer Willie Mullins said: “She’s just something else and the mare did the talking today. She’s got stamina, speed and everything. She’s just class – what more can I say?
“I’m so pleased for her and she has her own place in history now. To even get a horse here for six years in a row is hard enough."
2013 - Quevega:
Quevega managed to record her fifth successive victory in the Mares’ Hurdle in 2013 despite having to overcome interference when she was hampered on the bend after four out.
She looked to have plenty to do after two out, but a confident Ruby Walsh guided the odds-on favourite to a length and a half victory over French raider Sirene D’Ainay.
An exuberant Walsh spoke glowingly of the wonder mare.
“It’s an amazing feeling – she’s some mare, isn’t she? It’s even more remarkable as she almost came down at the top of the hill,” he said.
“I thought we were done for after this happened, but she picked up again turning for home. As she began to pick up speed, I thought ‘We can beat this frog’ and we did!
“She has a tremendous little engine and a wonderful attitude, and you’d have to say she is trained by a genius."
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