Monday 29 December 2014

Annie Power the top fancy for upgraded Mares' Hurdle

Published 23/07/2014 | 02:30

Now that Quevega has departed to the breeding sheds, the OLBG Mares' Hurdle will become a Grade One event. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Now that Quevega has departed to the breeding sheds, the OLBG Mares' Hurdle will become a Grade One event. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Just weeks after Quevega was confirmed in foal to Beat Hollow, it has emerged that the OLBG Mares' Hurdle that she glorified at Cheltenham every March is to become a Grade One event.

It was an irony lost on few observers yesterday that the two-mile-five-furlong contest should be upgraded from Grade Two status after the only mare of Grade One standard to contest it has been retired.

At 10 years of age, Willie Mullins' heroic French-bred defied her stable-mate Glens Melody to make history in typically brave fashion with a sixth successive triumph in the race last spring.

Now that Quevega has departed to the breeding sheds, the race is to become an elite affair from 2015, after it was announced that the sports betting firm OLBG is to commit to a further five years of sponsorship, with the prize fund set to increase from £85,000 to £100,000.

The promotion means that Britain will now have a Grade One jumps race confined to mares for a first time, though it might yet still be condemned to accusations of being one-sided and uncompetitive.

As of now, there is only one horse quoted in the betting for next year's event, namely Quevega's exceptional stable-mate Annie Power.

The champion trainer agonised for a long time over which Cotswolds feature to run his brilliant daughter of Shirocco in last March.

In the end, Annie Power's 10-race unbeaten stretch ended in a thrilling Ladbrokes World Hurdle joust with More Of That.

She duly regained the winning thread by contemptuously disposing of female only opposition at odds of 1/6 at Punchestown, and yesterday's development could mean that avoiding Cheltenham's two traditional championship events is also now a more likely scenario.

"Quevega has made the race her own over the last six years, but since its inception it has gone from strength to strength," Cheltenham's clerk of the course Simon Claisse said of the race's elevation.

The domestic fixture list for 2015 was also unveiled yesterday, with the beleaguered Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby set to remain in its current slot at the end of June. Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh had recently suggested that a new calendar location would be among the changes considered to revitalise the country's premier Classic, and, while he reiterated that the European Pattern Race Committee has been asked "to undertake a thorough review of the entire European middle distance three-year-old programme", the status quo will hold for next year.

Among the significant tweaks is that the Boylesports.com Hurdle and BHP Irish Champion Hurdle will revert to being held on separate Sundays a week apart on January 18 and 25.

Traditionally, a fortnight separated the two high-profile meetings until they were brought together to form a two-day Saturday-Sunday fixture in 2012, an experiment that is now being abandoned.

The 2015 Flat season will start a week later on March 29 at the Curragh and end at Leopardstown on the weekend of October 24-25, while the Irish Champions Weekend initiative that is set to be inaugurated in September is again pencilled in for the 12th and 13th of the month next year.

Meanwhile, Mullins has revealed that the reason Simenon did not appear among the Guinness Galway Hurdle entries is that his dual-purpose star suffered a stress fracture that will keep him sidelined for six weeks when winning over flights at Tipperary recently.

In his absence, the stable's similarly versatile Pique Sous heads the market for the €250,000 contest.

With Ruby Walsh still recuperating after surgery on a troublesome shoulder, Paul Townend will resume his association with the Royal Ascot-winning grey.

"I'm looking forward to the ride," Townend said of the 5/1 market leader. "He seems to be in very good form, and while you can't be confident in a race like the Galway Hurdle, we hope he has a very good chance."

Irish Independent

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