Dobbs hopes in Girl power
Prunella insists her star could catch all-conquering Quevega
TOPPLING the mighty Quevega and denying her a historic four-timer will be a daunting task but Prunella Dobbs is planning to do just that with Our Girl Salley.
Quevega is generally accepted as the greatest national hunt racemare since Dawn Run and Willie Mullins' eight-year-old will write herself into the annals of Cheltenham folklore if she secures a fourth successive win in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle.
Voler la Vedette has opted to sidestep the race to take on Big Buck's in the World Hurdle, and with Dermot Weld's Unaccompanied not prepared to take on the favourite, Our Girl Salley is left as the leading candidate to challenge the great Quevega.
A winner of the last two runnings of the Grade 3 ITBA mares hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, Our Girl Salley looks like the only horse capable of getting close to Mullins' racing superstar, but her trainer, Prunella Dobbs, is remaining realistic.
"She's on target, everything is going well, thank God. We're looking forward to it," she told the Herald.
"She is the best horse I've ever trained, I've been training for 10 years now and she is.
"We always keep around 10 or 12 horses in training at any one time.
"It's a small yard but it's wonderful to have one like her.
"Her owners, Jim and Ann O'Neill, they're from Wicklow and they're getting huge pleasure from her.
"It's going to be a big ask because Quevega is rated 20 pounds ahead of us in the handicap, so that gives an idea of how superior she is to us but we'll give it a shot.
"She (Quevega) is so far ahead of the posse but strange things happen in racing and there are plenty of obstacles to be jumped."
Our Girl Salley had a disappointing run on her last outing in a Grade two mares hurdle in Ascot at the end of January, but her trainer, from Dunganstown, Co Wicklow, believes the conditions and the slow pace stymied her horse's chances.
"The running of the race didn't suit because the race developed into a sprint and she was a bit too free early on," she revealed.
"The race didn't suit, but she stayed the three miles satisfactorily because there was a little question mark over whether she would.
"That race proved that she could stay, but two-and-a-half miles, which is the distance of the race at Cheltenham, is her optimum trip.
"Coming up the hill (at Cheltenham) shouldn't be a problem to her."
Our Girl Salley has never come up against Quevega, but was set to take her on at the Cotswolds last season, until suffering a setback in the days before the Festival.
"She scoped wrong just at the wrong minute and we didn't have enough time to sort it, so it's always a stressful time in the build-up but it is so far so good," she said.
"I had a runner (at Cheltenham) two years ago, but it wasn't a great success. Hopefully this one will be."
Also on tomorrow's card is the Cross Country, where Henry de Bromhead's Sizing Australia is looking to emulate last year's success.
The entry into the race of Willie Mullin's market leaders Uncle Junior and Scotsirish means tomorrow's renewal will be the most competitive ever.
"He's back to defend his crown this year," De Bromhead told the Herald.
"It looks like a hotter race this year with Willie's two runners. Uncle Junior won around here in November, but the fact that we have won around here at the Festival might give us an edge."