Marie’s Rock will pursue her planned step up to three miles at Aintree after a disappointing Cheltenham Festival performance.
The Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old was vying to defend her title in a red-hot renewal of the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle but did not land a blow when coming home in seventh place.
Despite the competitive line-up, connections felt the run was far from a true reflection of Marie’s Rock’s abilities and she was ultimately unsuited by how the contest unfolded tactically.
Both the mares’ race and the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival were under consideration, with her team eventually deciding on the former and a step up to three miles pencilled in for the Grand National meeting at Aintree instead.
That remains the plan and the JRL Liverpool Hurdle over three miles and half a furlong is next on the agenda.
Replay: Honeysuckle signs off with Mares' Hurdle glory from Love Envoi, with title-holder Marie's Rock down the field
“She’s come out of Cheltenham fine, it was obviously a bit of an unsatisfactory race,” said Tom Palin of owners Middleham Park Racing.
“They went a bit of a crawl and it was the first two home that had the correct set of fractions, they were well positioned throughout and then it became a bit of a sprint and that was always going to suit a Champion Hurdle winner.
“That’s racing, it was run in a manner which didn’t show her to the best of her ability but there’s nothing wrong with her, nothing’s come to light.
“She’s not had a hard time of things, Nico (de Boinville) looked after her once it became clear they were scattering away from her. We were weighing up whether to go up in trip at Cheltenham, but I still think we made the right decision as the ground was pretty testing for the Stayers’ Hurdle.
“She will go up to three miles for the Grade One on Grand National day, the Liverpool Hurdle. It looks an exciting race, I think Champ’s going there and they’re talking about it with Blazing Khal.
“The trainer and jockey firmly believe that’s where we should be pitching her now, hopefully it’s good ground. It’s a nice, flat track and they should go a good gallop so she can settle for the first mile and a half.”
Though disappointed with his runner’s performance, Palin was still able to enjoy the poignant success of the now-retired Honeysuckle, who bowed out on a high in an emotional victory for Henry de Bromhead.
He said: “It was very deflating and disheartening on the day, but the story in the end was fantastic. It was a brilliant story for racing and that was about the best hour of jumps racing you should wish for.
“It was meant to be Love Envoi, Epatante, Marie’s Rock and Honeysuckle jumping the last together and may the best filly win. It was a bit unsatisfactory for us, but the broader outcome was great.
“The fact that we never landed a blow and we were never involved tells us it was a draw a line through it stuff, hopefully she’ll bounce back at Aintree and that will make next year’s plan very simple.”We are on the move from Wednesday. Racing TV's new home on Sky will be Channel 424
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