Imperious Quevega continues World rule
QUEVEGA won the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle at Punchestown for the fourth successive year with another imperious performance.
Although her task was made easier when the favourite Solwhit was withdrawn at the start on veterinary advice, the Willie Mullins-trained mare shrugged the opposition aside with consummate ease.
Whatuthink made the running until the sixth-last flight where Reve De Sivola went on. Daryl Jacob did his best to make it a true stamina test but he could not shake off Quevega (6-4) under a confident ride from Ruby Walsh.
Leading before the final flight, she strolled past Reve De Sivola to win by five lengths. The first two were 31 lengths clear of Zaidpour in third.
"She did a bit of work last Saturday that we'd like to have seen her do in advance of Cheltenham," said Mullins, who enjoyed a sensational day with five winners on the card.
"We were worried going to Cheltenham that she was a bit big in herself which she was, as she nearly looked like a mare in foal over there.
"Last Saturday was the first time that I saw her race-fit. She just needed to be race-fit to do what she did today because that ground out there is very heavy.
"She's not liking it as she gets older but still, as those horses get older, they are stronger, and they get through that sort of ground.
"She has more speed, too, than people give her credit for. I always have her entered in the two-mile races in case anything happens to Hurricane Fly.
"She works with plenty of speed at home. We're never afraid of dropping her back to two miles.
"I think the plan will remain the same for next season - I don't see any reason to change it.
"Whether we go to France now or not I don't know - I'll have to chat to the Hammer And Trowel Syndicate (her owners).
"We'll have to see how she comes out of today.
"If she can do these two races every year it'll be fantastic.
"The big thing we want now is to go back to Cheltenham for a sixth mares' hurdle."
Walsh said: "It's plenty heavy enough for her but in fairness it's plenty heavy enough for any horse today. She's just a brilliant little mare. She's exceptionally well-placed and trained.
"She's so accurate in her jumping. She travels, she's honest. She's the real deal, she has four of these won, five in Cheltenham. Solwhit didn't run but you can only beat what's put in front of you and beat them she did.
"The older she gets the better she travels - the more relaxed she is. She's a wonderful jumper - very, very accurate.
"She's only a nine-year-old and has been to Cheltenham to win five times, which is incredible.
"The way she dug herself out of a hole to win over there this year was amazing.
"She's the best mare I've ridden - a once in a lifetime job."
Connections of the Nick Williams-trained Reve De Sivola were pleased with his effort.
Rider Daryl Jacob said: "We just ran into an exceptional mare. We were giving her 7lb and were beaten five lengths. My horse jumped great and travelled great but she's exceptional."
Owner Paul Duffy, who was unable to make the journey to Ireland, said: "We must be pleased with that. We've come up against a wonder horse, but she was getting 7lb.
"He ran his race and the rest of them were beaten a long way. The two were well clear and we were beaten by a better horse on the day.
"Nick keeps looking at the French races, so there possibly might be something on the agenda. We'll see and he's only eight years old. He'll stick to hurdling as he doesn't like the fences.
"We'll put him in the same regime as this year and start off in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury."
There was a 40p deduction on winning bets after Solwhit, the 11-8 favourite, was withdrawn when he was found to be bleeding from the nose.
Charles Byrnes, trainer of Solwhit, successful in the big staying events at Cheltenham and Aintree, said: "There was blood on one nostril and we got him scoped but he hasn't burst a blood vessel, it was just a scratch.
"Davy (Russell) did the right thing, once there was blood there."