The success and opportunities available for jumps mares were celebrated at the inaugural Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Showcase on Thursday ahead of the mares-only raceday at Cheltenham racecourse.

Among those called upon to talk about the thrill of owning a National Hunt mare to those in attendance in the Istabraq Suite were Keith and Jayne Sivills, owners and breeders of Phil Kirby’s stable star Lady Buttons.

The Sivills purchased Lady Buttons’ dam, the unraced High Chaparral mare Lady Chapp, when she was offered in foal to former Knockhouse Stud resident Beneficial.

Their purchase of Lady Chapp has more than been rewarded with Lady Buttons winning 12 of her 28 races, including the Listed Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase and the Grade 2 Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle, and amassing £202,276 in prize-money.

The nine-year-old also took the Sivills to this year’s Cheltenham Festival, where she finished fourth in the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, and she was last seen finishing second in the Grade 3 Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree.

“I never ever thought we’d have a runner at the Cheltenham Festival,” Jayne Sivills said.

Keith added: “It was always the intention to race Lady Buttons. We had Lady Chapp tested and were told she was having a colt, so it was a surprise when she appeared! Phil always told us from the start that she was a little bit special and so she’s proved.

“She’s finished for the season and we’ll sit down with Phil to identify our targets – I think one of them is here next March, hopefully in the Queen Mother, but we’ll see how things go.”

One of the major improvements that has created more opportunities for jumps mares has been the programme that has been developed by the British Horseracing Authority, with the support of the TBA, over the last ten years.

The aims of the project have been to increase the population of jump mares in training in Britain, to deliver graduated growth in a quality race programme for jump mares that allows them the opportunity to develop to best of their ability, and to incentivise and encourage behavioural change relating to a more positive approach to the breeding, buying, owning and training of jump mares.

Stuart Middleton, Racing Operations Manager at the BHA, was on hand to present the figures to attendees that showed that the total prize fund for jump mares’ races in 2018 was £3,359,499 – much higher than the £1,003,482 on offer in 2005.

Middleton also highlighted that the proportion of the NH race programme of mares’ races has more than doubled over the last five years and that mares typically make up 20% of the total number of NH horses in training.

The TBA has been at the forefront of developing initiatives to encourage the ownership and breeding of jumps mares through the NH Mare Owners’ Prize Scheme and the Elite Mares’ Scheme, which the TBA’s Chief Executive Claire Sheppard highlighted in a talk to those attending.

Sheppard said: “What we have heard so far today has clearly highlighted the growing opportunities and the great enjoyment that people can experience owning and breeding jumping mares.

“The TBA’s purpose is to support British breeders and the interests of the British-bred thoroughbred. Through our National Hunt committee, it is actively encouraging the breeding, buying and racing of jump racing mares.

“We’re doing this in three main ways. The first being that ensuring success stories are highlighted through our partnership with GBRI. Secondly, the TBA uses its sponsorship strategically to fund races as needed.

“In recent years the TBA has supported the introduction of the mares’ Listed chases including at Newbury, Cheltenham and Perth as well as supporting the EBF with its mares’ race series. This ensures that races are supported and providing prize-money to incentivise owners to develop mares through the entire race programme.

“Thirdly, the TBA runs a number of incentives and initiatives to promote the breeding and racing of National Hunt mares. One of our key initiatives is the National Hunt Mares’ Owners Prize Scheme.”

Launched in 2016, the NHMOPS initiative provides prizes of up to £10,000 to the connections of registered horses that win qualifying mares’ only races and over £500,000 in prizes have been paid out to owners, trainers, jockeys and stables since the scheme’s inception.

David and Kathleen Holmes, who stood the late Midnight Legend at their Pitchall Farm Stud in Warwickshire, were on hand to detail how they have made use of the Elite Mares’ Scheme.

Their sire Passing Glance, who relocated to Batsford Stud in Gloucestershire in 2016, is one of the eligible stallions for the Elite Mares’ Scheme and the Holmes’ have used the grant given by the TBA as a discount on the advertised fee.

David Holmes said: “The Elite Mares’ Scheme has been good all round and allows people to use good stallions at modest prices. It’s good that we have this scheme, and long may it continue.”

Other talks on Thursday morning included the topic of ‘From Racing to Breeding’, which featured David Futter of Yorton Farm, Peter Hockenhull of Shade Oak Stud and Simon Sweeting of Overbury Stud discussing the options for NH mare owners at the end of their racing careers.

The final talk of the morning was from Weatherbys’ Operations Director Simon Cooper about the General Stud Book and the threats and opportunities facing the organisation before a panel discussion concluded the inaugural Mares’ Showcase.