Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Preview
The final Grade 1 on the opening day is the Grade 1 Close Brother Mares Hurdle, contested over 2 miles and 4 furlongs. Willie Mullins has farmed this race since its induction in 2008, winning 9 of the 13 renewals, including 6 with the legend Quevega. Having not won the last 2 renewals, he is in a bit of a drought though but does hold the ace here with short priced favourite Concertista. In the absence of defending champion Honeysuckle, 2019 winner Roksana could well be the main danger and Dame De Compagnie, last years Coral Cup winner, looks an interesting runner reverting from fences.
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Current Odds: 11/8
Last season’s emphatic Mares Novice Hurdle winner, Concertista, looks sure to go off a short-priced favourite for this seasons Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle. A perfect 2 from 2 this season, Concertista has won in the fashion of a very good mare, cruising through her races and quickening when needing too. Her form looks rock solid too having beaten the likes of Queens Brook, Minella Melody and Black Tears in convincing fashion. We know she goes well at Cheltenham having finished second in the 2019 Mares Novice, before bolting up in the same race last year. Interestingly, her form has been far better coming into Cheltenham this season than it was last season and she strikes me as a mare who is still progressing. Officially rated 153 she finds herself nicely clear from most of her expected rivals except Roksana who is also rated 153 but who achieved that rating over further. There are plenty of short-priced favourites at this year’s festival but I believe Concertista to be one of the more solid.
Trainer: Dan Skelton
Current Odds: 5/1
2019 winner of the race, Roksana, lies second in the betting and should the ground come up very soft would appear to have a big chance. Rated 153, her top form comes over 3 miles and that has been further highlighted by her outstanding three-mile form so far this season. A smooth reappearance win in the Grade 2 Bet365 Hurdle over 3 miles was followed by a cracking third placed finish to star stayers Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle. Her last start came in less competitive surroundings and she was visually awesome, cantering all over Grand National runner up Magic Of Light in the Grade 2 Mares Hurdle at Ascot. Roksana’s participation in this year’s Mares Hurdle is not confirmed as she may be targeted at the Stayers over her favoured 3 miles. Should the ground come up very soft, she may be rerouted here though and I’ve no doubt she is in flying form at the moment so has what it takes to give Concertista a race.
DAME DE COMPAGNIE
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Current Odds: 8/1
Last season’s impressive Coral Cup winner was late to arrive this season and did eventually so over fences at Doncaster. Having backed her at 28/1 for the new Mares Chase, I was thrilled with the round of jumping that followed and Dame De Compagnie comfortably dismissed the 154 rated Cornerstone Lad. Pitched into the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase against the boys on her next start, she seemed to be slightly outpaced coming down the back straight before being brought down by faller Hitman. Who knows what would’ve happened but I don’t think she was running as badly as many may have thought. JP has current Mares Chase favourite Elimay and with Benie Des Dieux ruled out, I was hardly surprised to see Henderson suggest the Dame may be re routed back over hurdles. On her best form she still has ground to make up with Concertista and switching back from fences is never as easy as it may seem. With three course wins at the distance she certainly can’t be overlooked back at Prestbury Park though!
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Current Odds: 12/1
Verdana Blue is a mare with some extremely high-class back form, having defeated dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air in the 2018 Christmas Hurdle. Officially rated 162 at her peak she may be one to attract each way support against Concertista should the ground be on the quick side. She’s a filly who has always thrived on a quicker surface and the extra half a mile may be just want she wants now a 9-year-old. Her form this season maybe a slight worry though. She reappeared with a second placed finish to Silver Streak which by no means reads poorly, but she has since been beaten by the 139 rated Mrs Hyde in receipt of 2lbs and finished 8th, 16 lengths behind Song For Someone in The International. I’m sure a return to spring ground will help her improve a fair bit but there are still big question marks about whether she retains her peak level of ability. With handicaps a viable option off a mark of 151, she isn’t a guaranteed runner.
Cesarewitch winner on the flat, Great White Shark, could head the outsiders and clearly has quite the engine under the bonnet. Beaten only 3 lengths in last season’s Martin Pipe, we know she handles Cheltenham as a track but to see her at her very best over hurdles she may want further. Last year’s Martin Pipe winner Indefatigable is another who could run here and has exceptional course form reading 5121. She hasn’t seemed quite up to her best so far this season but a return to Prestbury Park could spark her back into life and she’s a lively outsider at 33/1. Dolcita finished second to Concertisa in last season’s Mares Novice and took a step back in the right direction last time out for new trainer Fergal O’Brien. She is yet to finish outside the first three in her career so far and could offer value in place markets at 50/1. Arguably the most interesting outsider is Black Tears who looks a massive price at 25/1 given her fine Coral Cup second to a very well handicapped Dame De Compagnie last March. Gordon has hinted this is the likely target and for a mare with such good festival form, she looks overpriced at 25/1
Crunching the Numbers
With the first edition of the Mares Hurdle being run in 2008 and Willie Mullins’ superstar mare, Quevega, winning 6 renewals in a row from 2009 to 2014, crunching the numbers for this race can be rather misleading. I have done some digging though and noticed a few things of substance. If you look at just Quevegas first win and the other 7 winning mares, none of them had won at Cheltenham prior to their Mares Hurdle success. A trend current favourite Concertista will have to buck. Willie Mullins has a fantastic record in this mainly thanks to Quevega, winning 9 of the 13 renewals. Of the 7 renewals Quevega did not run in, Willie still trained the winner in three of them with Glens Melody, Vroum Vroum Mag and Benie Des Dieux. 11 of the 13 winners have been priced at 6/1 or lower but interestingly Annie Power, Vroum Vroum Mag and Benie Des Dieux (on two occasions) have all been beaten at odds on in recent times. Admittingly both Annie Power and Benie Des Dieux were both going to win before taking crashing falls at the last but as we all painfully know, there are no prizes for leading at the last.
I’ll cut straight to the point and say Concertista will be very hard to beat. Roksana and Verdana Blue both have other options they could take up and Dame De Compagnie seems to come here as a bit of an after-thought. The rest of the field have it all to do on Official Ratings and I can actually see Concertisa going off odds on on the day. She’s not my sort of price for a single but she’s bound to feature in many an accumulator! Black Tears could be one for the “Without Favourite” markets as she looks far too big a price on her form line through Dame De Compagnie in last seasons Coral Cup. At a massive price, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dolcita pick up the pieces and sneak a place.
My idea of the winner
- Concertista 11/8
Each Way Play
- Black Tears 25/1
- Black Tears
- Dame De Compagnie