By the time you read this, thoughts will already be firmly on Aintree or the start of the Flat turf season, depending on your preference. It would be remiss, however, not to reflect on certain issues arising from results at the Cheltenham Festival.
Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins not only won both mares’ races at the Festival but also played their part in one of the most memorable Champion Hurdles of recent years when Annie Power laid her Cheltenham demons to rest with an emphatic victory over her 11 rivals.
Criticism of the new Trull House Stud Dawn Run Novices’ Hurdle by various commentators has shown a depressing lack of grasp of its necessity in the Cheltenham programme
Criticism of the new Trull House Stud Dawn Run Novices’ Hurdle by various commentators has shown a depressing lack of grasp of its necessity in the Cheltenham programme. No doubt, racing and betting go hand in hand, and if punters find this an unappealing betting medium in its first few years, then so be it. But the bigger picture – of encouraging more owners to buy fillies and mares to race – is one which can’t be ignored if the National Hunt breeding industry is to thrive.
Another criticism is that the Grade 2 event for novices weakens the Grade 1 OLBG David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle. With 19 runners in the latter this year, only another seven would have been allowed to line up under Cheltenham’s maximum field size policy, meaning that nine owners, or sets of owners, would have been denied a chance to see their horse run at the Festival. Yes, they could have attempted to run in novice races open to both sexes, but the whole point of increasing the number of mares’ jumps races is to give owners an extra incentive to race one in the first place, inspired by a dedicated programme, the like of which already works perfectly well for Flat fillies. And, if it needs underlining, a mares’ novice hurdle followed by a mares’ hurdle allows for progression. God willing, once Limini has burnt up the Royal Ascot turf, she’ll be back at Cheltenham next year for a crack at Grade 1 glory, making way for the next novices to start their ascent.
Beating the boys
It’s a rare mare who can thwart male counterparts as convincingly as Annie Power but we have a far greater chance of finding her successor if more of her sex are given the opportunity to race in the first place. Her erstwhile stable-mate Quevega didn’t retire to stud until she was 11, and it was encouraging to hear Mullins have no truck with the suggestion of retiring Annie Power just yet.
He said: “She’s a racehorse to me. A lot of other guys would say she should now be a broodmare but that’s not on my agenda and I don’t think it will be on Rich’s. We’re going to treat her as a racehorse.”
Of course, for well-bred fillies, even putting them into training presents a risk to a future broodmare career. “I’m not sure whether we’ll be brave enough to race her,” said Thistlecrack’s owner Heather Snook, moments after signing for his three-year-old sister at the Festival Sale after her pride and joy had won enough money in the Ryanair World Hurdle to cover the filly’s sales price. It’s an understandable concern, especially in the light of an unpalatable number of fatalities at Cheltenham this year.
Among the many highlights, however, were the three British-bred Grade 1 winners for the country’s leading National Hunt sire, Kayf Tara. He’s long been considered an asset among the jumps stallion ranks, and with the offspring of better books of mares now working their way through, Kayf Tara’s banner year was brought to a crescendo by Thistlecrack, Blaklion and Ballyandy.
More encouraging still is the greater range of stallions now available to National Hunt breeders in this country. Annie Power and Sprinter Sacre have continued to promote the worth of the Monsun line, and his sons in Britain include Gentlewave and Schiaparelli. Yorton Farm’s new recruit Blue Bresil, who, like the popular Smad Place, is a son of Smadoun, was represented by the Martin Pipe winner Ibis Du Rheu, and while Yanworth may have just missed out to Yorkhill, he has been a wonderful flagbearer this season for another Yorton resident, Norse Dancer. Not to be forgotten, Midnight Legend, now 25, is a British stalwart and provided two Grade 1 runners-up, along with Dusky Legend, who was second to Limini.
With Telescope joining Black Sam Bellamy at Shade Oak Stud, there’s plenty of choice on home turf, which is why we need the tried and tested mares more than ever.