The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (or the David Nicholson Mare’s Hurdle as it was formerly known) has only been run fifteen times with Ireland winning twelve of those and Willie Mullins taking nine of those dozen. His super mare Quevega (dam of Facile Vega) won this race no less than six times on the bounce between 2014 and 2019 which must surely go down as one of Mullins’ greatest training performances.
Last year, the race was wrestled away from Ireland by Nicky Henderson’s Marie’s Rock at 18/1 with Ireland filling the next five places home. The race is run over the old course and the mares will race over 2M 3F 200 yards.
One of three Willie Mullins here and presumably the pick of the stable’s number one jockey Paul Townend. Missed Cheltenham on the morning of mares novices’ hurdle last year due to injury but beat the winner of that race Love Envoi by a comfortable 8L at Fairyhouse the following month in a first-time hood. Back from a 311-day absence when easy to back and finishing a 4 3/4L third to Queens Brook who she was giving 9lb to. Sure to have come forward for that run and holds each-way claims here.
ECHOES IN RAIN
5th in this last year prior to runner-up in Punchestown Champion Hurdle to Honeysuckle the following month. Last seen when an easy winner of a grade 3 at Naas in January and only has 7lb officially to find with today’s top-rated Honeysuckle. A negative here though has to be the fact that Willie Mullins’ number one pilot Paul Townend has chosen to ride Brandy Love.
One of three Nicky Henderson-trained runners in today’s field. Bumped into stable companion Constitution Hill twice before a comfortable winner at Doncaster in January. 2020 winner of the Champion Hurdle and runner-up the last two years to Honeysuckle in the same race. A very slick hurdler who will be ridden by his regular jockey Aidan Coleman today and should go close with conditions to suit.
Dual winner of the Champion Hurdle who takes this route rather than challenge Constitution Hill and State Man in this year’s renewal. The top-rated in the field and her two starts this season suggest she retains plenty of ability. A 4 3/4L second to State Man may be good enough for her to take a hand in the finish. Will be ridden as per usual by Rachael Blackmore and is trained in Ireland Henry De Bromhead.
Won the mares novices’ hurdle at the meeting last year but was firmly put in her place a month later by Brandy Love at Fairyhouse. A dual winner at Sandown this season in handicap and listed company and the ground can’t be soft enough for her. Officially rated 12lb behind Honeysuckle but on her favoured terrain has place claims. Trained by Harry Fry and will be ridden today by Jonathan Burke.
Winner of this contest a year ago by 1 3/4L from Queens Brook. Unbeaten since at Punchestown (grade 1) and Cheltenham (grade 2). Runs here in preference to a tilt at the stayers hurdle where her stamina would have been tested going up in trip. Trained at Seven Barrows by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico De Boinville. Impressed last time and is a big player today.
Trained locally by Andrew Martin and totally outclassed here. Should comfortably finish last under James Martin.
Runner up to Marie’s Rock in this last year following an interrupted preparation. Been a bit hit-and-miss so far this season but did beat the re-appearing Brandy Love last time though was in receipt of 9lb. Davy Russell rides for Gordon Elliott and could outrun her odds as has been aimed at this race since last year.
The weakest of the Mullins trio who will be ridden today by Danny Mullins. Looked good at Leopardstown over Christmas when a comfortable 4 1/2L winner over Queens Brook over today’s distance. Bit to find on ratings but obviously has plenty of talent.
The third candidate from the Nicky Henderson yard. Was supplemented at a cost of just under £5k for this and will need to finish in the first five to recuperate that. Daryl Jacob takes the ride and looked good at Warwick last time out last month but that was on good ground and soft ground today will be against.
One of the races of the Festival with dual Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle the one to beat. She’s unbeaten in three starts at the Festival having won this race in 2020 and the two subsequent Champions. Last year’s winner, Marie’s Rock, looks like a serious player whilst her stable mate Epatante also has strong claims. Echoes In Rain was an original ante-post fancy of mine but with Paul Townend choosing Brandy Love over her is now dismissed. The latter could be the most interesting one but can be a bit wayward (wears a hood) and hasn’t had the ideal preparation for this. With everything considered it’s going to be Honeysuckle for me to win her fourth race in the last four Festivals and bring the house down.
1 Honeysuckle @ 9/4 with Bet365
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