All you need to know about the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse on March 11.
By Harry Allwood
When and where can I watch the race? 4.10pm, Cheltenham Racecourse, Tuesday, March 11, live in stunning HD on Racing TV.
What Grade? Grade One. What course is the race staged on? Old Course
What Distance? 2m 4f (10 hurdles). How much prize-money? £120,000
Ages: 4yo+. Weights & Allowances: 10st 10lb (4yo). 11st 5lb (5yo+)
Key Statistics and Trends:
· Nine of the past 12 winners were sent off either first or second favourite.
· Eleven of the past 12 winners had at least five previous runs over hurdles and at least two wins over hurdles.
· Willie Mullins has won nine of the past 12 renewals and his Benie Des Dieux looked to have the 2019 running her mercy - only to fall at the last
· Nine of the past 12 winners were rated 150 or higher.
· Nine of the past 12 winners had won on their previous start.
The OLBG Mares' Hurdle (known as the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle until 2011) 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.
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.
The two-and-a-half mile showpiece was a Grade Two contest until 2015 and in its first year was run on the New Course on the final day of the festival. It is now one of the feature races on the opening day.
Last seven winners and replays:
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 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 wondermare.
“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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