Day One at the Cheltenham Festival is predominantly about the Champion Hurdle, the race before this one. Much like the races before the Champion Hurdle have their own draws to mean they shouldn’t be dismissed, so too the Mares’ Hurdle isn’t a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’. There are seven races on the first day of proceedings, of which this is the fourth. Even if you got the winner on the Champion Hurdle and want to spend all of your winnings, it’s worth sticking around for the rest of the races.
The Cheltenham is much-loved for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it’s always evolving and changing. This race is a perfect example of that, founded as it was in 2008. It was initially run under the title of the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle (the races registered name), but that changed in 2011 when OLBG.com started sponsoring it, in 2020 Close Brothers took over. The trophy is still named after David Nicholson, though, dedicated to the memory of a man who won five times as a jockey at the Festival and a further seventeen times as a trainer.
|Course||Grade||Fences||Distance (m)||Winner / Purse|
|Old Course||Grade 1||10||2m 3f 200y (4005m)||£50,643 / £88,000|
This Grade 1 hurdle race is run left-handed on the Old Course, as all Day One races are. It lasts for just under two miles and four furlongs, with ten hurdles needing to be cleared during its running. It is open for fillies and mares that are four or older and the weight limit is ten stone ten pound. Horses over five can be eleven stone five pounds.
2019’s winner was Roksana, the Irish horse trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by brother Harry Skelton. That broke up the monopoly of Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins, as we’ll mention in a moment. Who have won the race together 8 out of the previous 11 years. Willie Mullins was again prevented from winning more in 2020, beaten by Henry De Bromhead trained Honeysuckle, ridden by Rachael Blackmore; and again in 2021 by the Black Tears trained by Denise Foster standing in for Gordon Elliott.
This race was originally run on the New Course on the final day of the Festival, switching to the Old Course on Day One in 2009. It was also a Grade 2 race until 2015, when it was upgraded to become a Grade 1 event. The race’s trophy may well be dedicated to the memory of David Nicholson, but it could almost be given over to Ruby Walsh, such is the amount of times he’s won it. Run for the first time in 2008, the Mares’ Hurdle has taken place every year since. That means that it has been run 12 times between then and our typing this, with Walsh winning it on eight occasions.
In 2008 Whiteoak romped home, ridden well by Jason Maguire and trained by Donald McCain, Jr. For the next six years, however, there was only one winner. Quevega, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, won it consecutively between 2009 and 2014, beating Golden Miller’s record of five wins at the Festival. Admittedly Golden Miller’s wins came in the Gold Cup, but Quevega’s performance is no less impressive in its own.
In 2015 Walsh failed to win the race for the first time since its inaugural year, with Glens Melody coming home thanks to Paul Townend’s riding. It meant another win for Willie Mullins as trainer, however. Mullins won for the eighth time in 2016 when Vroum Vroum Mag came home and the ninth time in 2018 with Benie Des Dieux. Who was the jockey both times? Our old friend Ruby Walsh, of course! Pretty impressive from Walsh and Mullins, all things considered.
CBO Rating | 7/10
Owners, trainers and breeders who send horses to the Cheltenham Festival were long in favour of a race for mares only, with this being the result of their campaigning. It might not feel like one of the most important races, but it was a real boon for those that wanted to see a race of its kind brought in and they take it very seriously. There will be a decent field every time this race is run for that reason, so even if other people don’t seem to rate it it’s still worthy of your attention.
You’ll see plenty of people heading to the bar once the Champion Hurdle comes to an end, so if you’re at Cheltenham Racecourse then you’ll likely be able to move yourself into a decent position to watch this one. It’s also not as popular as other races with punters, so you’ll probably be able to get to the front of the queue to place a bet without any messing about. This is the final Grade 1 race of Day One, so if you value quality racing above all else then don’t be quick to dismiss it from the race card.