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Cheltenham Memories: Magic Mares Who Became The Stuff Of Dreams


There have been some top class mares bringing home the big prizes at Prestbury Park over the years. Obviously, Dawn Run would be the number one in most peoples’ books, and Honeysuckle probably not far off, but I have compiled a list, with individuals who were not necessarily the best in their field, but are of particular interest or to put it bluntly, are sourced through my pocket talk!

Quevega

She is the mare who made the race her own. Trained by Willie Mullins, she was a quite remarkable performer, who managed to win the Mares’ Hurdle SIX times, from 2009 to 2014, conquering all before her. Her win in the first of those was a spectacular performance, as the 2/1f blasted clear of her rivals by 14 lengths, with the crowd applauding something special as opposed to full-on raucous cheer.

With wins in another four consecutive renewals tucked away subsequently, she rocked up to what would be her final appearance at the Cheltenham Festival as the 8/11f with the default weight of expectation from punters in her saddle as well as Ruby Walsh.

It seemed like for the first time in a long time Walsh had to get serious with the 10-year-old; she was in mid-division, and free wheeling down to two out, she was niggled along to pick up. She ate up the ground, but found herself in a battle as they turned into the home straight in third position, about two lengths behind her stablemate Glens Melody. Furiously ridden by Walsh, she comes to the last, still about a length down, hops over it, and then starts to reel in the leader. In the last 100 yards she eventually engages overdrive to get up and win a shade cosily in the end, much to the delight of the packed enclosures and it will probably be a long time before we see any race at the Festival won on six occasions.

She has her own restaurant named after her at the racecourse, serving wine and tapas – considering she served racing fans and punters alike many times, it seems a fitting tribute.

Annie Power

There was never a dull moment at the Cheltenham Festival when Annie Power was involved.

Sent off the 11/8f to win the Stayers; Hurdle in 2014, she was runner up to More Of That. A year later, she was 1/2f to win the Mares’ Hurdle and complete the four-timer of Mullins and Walsh hotpots on the opening day.

The atmosphere was electric as the tapes went up for that race, as Annie was being billed as the horse to “bankrupt the bookies”. All seemed to be going extremely well and according to plan, as Walsh and Mullins tanked down towards the final flight of hurdles with a commanding lead and then the unthinkable happened; she seemed to dive at the final hurdle, sending herself and Walsh crashing to the floor. The galleries were awash with faces painted with disbelief and an eerie silence swirled around the sporting cauldron.

A year later, she came into the Champion Hurdle as ‘super-sub’ for the injured Faugheen, and many previews thought it could be a case that she finds a way not to win for the third Cheltenham Festival in a row. That wasn’t the case though, as she made all, and stormed up the hill to win to finally lay her Cheltenham Festival hoodoo to rest. A wonderful mare who brought the drama to match.

Gaspara

A mare I couldn’t resist putting in this list, and it was very much a case of ‘when a plan comes together.’ David Pipe had not long taken over from his father at Pond House, the legendary Martin Pipe, and the little Gaspara had notched up a couple of novice hurdle wins, before landing the Imperial Cup at Sandown on handicap debut.

Looking to win the Sandown/Cheltenham bonus, she was sent off a 9/2 joint-favourite for the 2007 Fred Winter with 5lb claimer Andrew Glassonbury doing the steering.

Despite all the talk beforehand about weights, measures, ground, and a quick reappearance, the race itself was incredibly uncomplicated. A 24-runner handicap hurdle which is notoriously one of the most competitive of the week, became a one-horse show, as she galloped off in front at the start and never saw another rival, coming clear by five lengths up the Cheltenham Hill to a chorus of cheers.

It was beautifully executed, and to think she was rated 152 by the start of the next season, it was a bit of a masterstroke. It is amazing to think that over the remainder of her career which lasted four-years, she never managed to get back in the winners enclosure (was disqualified once), but it was that day at Prestbury Park she will forever be remembered.

Put The Kettle On

She might be underrated and under-appreciated. She’s won 9 of her 19 races, including four times from just five visits to Cheltenham. Her record at the Festival itself is absolute class, notching the 2020 Arkle Chase, and then the 2021 Champion Chase in a thriller.

Together with Aidan Coleman, the duo have formed a formidable rapport and she will be heading back to Prestbury Park in 2022 to try and get her name on the honours board once more.

Things are going to be tougher, as Shishkin and Energumene provide formidable challengers, and she has convinced when upped in distance so it is not certain whether the Mares’ Chase or even Ryan Air Chase would play to her strengths. Lots to ponder for the Henry De Bromhead team, but to use his words, “she doesn’t owe us anything”.

The eight-year-old has already pulled it out of the bag to win at odds of 16/1 and 17/2 at the Cheltenham Festival, so who knows?

Apple’s Jade

What a cracking mare she was. It would be fair to say that she didn’t always deliver when it came to the Cheltenham Festival, but few can argue that her Mares’ Hurdle win in 2017 was an enthralling victory.

She took up the running at the halfway point and looked to be a sitting duck as they turned into the straight.

Stalking her were the formidable and menacing duo of the unsubtle Sussanah Ricci silks carried by Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini. It appeared that she was about to fold, but then engaged overdrive to see off the Willie Mullins pair who were attacking her on either flank. Tenacious and classy in equal measure, it was a memorable performance from the 7/2 shot.