2020 Mares’ Hurdle tips – Benie vs Honey a battle for the ages

Stormy Ireland finishing second to Roksana 12 months ago.

2020 Mares’ Hurdle Tips

We share our 2020 Mares Hurdle tips taking place on day two of the Cheltenham Festival in the latest of our Cheltenham tips articles.

Named in honour of the late, great David Nicholson, the Mares’ Hurdle has proven a popular addition to the schedule on day one of the Cheltenham Festival. Willie Mullins’ Quevega turned up at Cheltenham and won this race for six years on the bounce. She’s since been followed into the winners’ enclosure by four of her stablemates, meaning Ireland’s Champion Trainer has won nine of the 12 runnings of this Grade One.

I’ve taken a look at all of the most likely runners in this Grade One at the Cheltenham Festival, providing you with my definitive 2020 Mares’ Hurdle tips.

Mares’ Hurdle tips – The Defending Champion

Roksana

Having shown flashes of real quality during her career, I chose Roksana (10/1 William Hill) as my Mares’ Hurdle tip 12 months ago. Obviously, Dan Skelton’s mare was fortunate on the day, as Benie Des Dieux took an untimely tumble at the last, but Roksana was still on hand to beat a number of dangerous rivals to the title. Skelton’s mare hasn’t won since, placing in both the Liverpool Hurdle and the Relkeel Hurdle on her latest start. Despite that, Roksana is still greatly respected as she bids to defend her crown.

Mares’ Hurdle tips – The Top Two

Benie Des Dieux

Had it not been for that final flight fall at Cheltenham last year, Benie Des Dieux (4/5 Ladbrokes) would still be unbeaten in the colours of Rich Ricci. Willie Mullins’ star bounced back in fitting style at Punchestown, before carrying astronomical odds to victory in the French equivalent of the Stayers’ Hurdle.

On the back of her recent Galmoy Hurdle romp, many have speculated Benie Des Dieux could take on Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Rich Ricci even made the shock admission last week that the team were even considering a tilt at the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Yet, I think the chances of Benie Des Dieux running in anything but the Mares’ Hurdle are slim-at-best. She will turn up here and she will be very, very hard to beat.

Honeysuckle gets up to win the Irish Champion Hurdle.

Honeysuckle

Henry De Bromhead handed his mare the toughest test of her short career at the Dublin Racing Festival, throwing Honeysuckle (2/1 Paddy Power) into the Irish Champion Hurdle. The runaway Hattons Grace Hurdle winner was backed into a short price on the day, but looked in trouble as Petit Mouchoir and Darver Star bore down on her before the last. Yet, Rachael Blackmore’s mount had the strength to get back up in the strides before the line to preserve her unbeaten record.

I had been expecting connections to go for the Champion Hurdle on the back of that triumph. Tuesday’s Championship race is looking incredibly open in 2020 and carries more precedence than the Mares’ Hurdle. However, this week the team decided it would be the Mares’ for Honeysuckle at Cheltenham. Her clash with Benie Des Dieux is a mouth-watering prospect.

Mares’ Hurdle tips – Overlooked Outsiders

Stormy Ireland

Sitting closest to the market leaders is Stormy Ireland (9/1 William Hill), who followed Roksana over the line in the Mares’ Hurdle last year. It’s been plain sailing for Willie Mullins’ mare this term, sealing comfortable victories in a Grade Three for mares’ over Christmas, before beating the boys in the Limestone Lad Hurdle. As each-way 2020 Mares’ Hurdle tips go, you won’t find many better than Stormy Ireland.

Apple’s Jade

That stunning victory at Leopardstown aside, where Apple’s Jade (16/1 Ladbrokes) destroyed many rivals who underperformed, it seems a gruelling career has caught up with Gordon Elliott’s mare. Since winning this race in 2017, Apple’s Jade hasn’t been able to produce her best at Cheltenham. Elliott stated his star might be retired after a run at Cheltenham, and it seems for all money like her final outing will come in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Lady Buttons

Phil Kirby’s star mare has continued to collect big prizes over both hurdles and fences this term. Lady Buttons (16/1 Paddy Power) kicked off the season with victory in the Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby, before holding off BetVictor Gold Cup winner, Happy Diva to win another Listed prize over fences. Kirby’s nine-year-old then toughed out a Grade Two win in the Yorkshire Rose Hurdle, and has a chance of improving on the fourth-place finish she registered here 12 months ago.

Magic of Light winning back-to-back Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot.

Magic Of Light

Another marvellous dual-purpose mare, who produced an incredible performance to finish second to Tiger Roll in the Grand National. Magic Of Light (20/1 Paddy Power) returned to Newbury to win the same Listed Chase she won 12-months ago back in December, and successfully defended her Mares’ Hurdle crown at Ascot last time out. A chasing mark of 158 makes it hard to enter one of Cheltenham’s handicap chases, so Jessica Harrington might have to point her star at this Grade One instead.

Verdana Blue

I’m surprised to see Verdana Blue (20/1 Paddy Power) sitting on such a short price. Not that Nicky Henderson’s mare isn’t a classy sort, as victories in the Christmas Hurdle and Scottish Champion Hurdle prove that. But two-and-a-half miles is unchartered territory for Verdana Blue, she’s yet to run so far this season and the ground usually comes up far too soft for her on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.

Mares’ Hurdle tips – Look At The Odds

Elfile

Another mare from Willie Mullins’ yard, Elfile (33/1 William Hill) was last seen finished second to bunkmate Stormy Ireland over Christmas. After finishing a five-length runner-up to Honeysuckle in novice company last term, Elfile won her first two starts of the new season, including a Listed triumph at Punchestown. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Elfile take her chance. She won’t be one of my 2020 Mares’ Hurdle tips, though.

Silver Forever

Despite being a first-season hurdler, Silver Forever (33/1 Ladbrokes) stayed on well to beat experienced sorts in Copper Gone West and Indefatigable to win the Listed Mares’ Hurdle at Sandown in January. Paul Nicholls’ mare produced her best run yet over that two-and-a-half-mile trip, but I still think it’s more likely she will return to novice company at the Cheltenham Festival.

Relegate

Formerly trained by Willie Mullins, Relegate (33/1 Paddy Power) hasn’t been seen since crossing the line a fast-finishing fifth in the 2019 Nathaniel Lacy at the Dublin Racing Festival. Colm Murphy’s recruit has previous at the Cheltenham Festival, scoring a surprise victory in the 2018 Champion Bumper. Relegate will need to be watched closely if she does make it to Cheltenham, but the way she jumped as a novice last season wouldn’t fill Murphy with much optimism.

Cap Soleil

A promising sort during her novice season, Cap Soleil (66/1 William Hill) missed the majority of last season. Fergal O’Brien managed to get his mare fit in time for the Mares’ Hurdle, where she was beaten 22-length back in seventh. Cap Soleil was then beaten out of sight in a Mares’ Handicap here in April and hasn’t been sighted since. She may run, but I can’t see her being a factor.

Benie Des Dieux bolts up at Punchestown last season.

Mares’ Hurdle tips – Verdict

Honeysuckle is clearly a very good quality mare and two-and-a-half-miles looks to be her best trip. However, I’m shocked that connections didn’t chose to enter a wide-open Champion Hurdle, as I can’t see Honeysuckle being strong enough to deny BENIE DES DIEUX.

Jaws dropped as Paul Townend’s mount bolted up in the Galmoy Hurdle, clocking an impressive time without breaking a sweat. Mullins’ charge looks a horse of the very highest calibre and the team will be keen to make up for last year’s drama, where Benie Des Dieux was a certainty to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown before falling at the last.

Along with Paisley Park and Tiger Roll, Benie Des Dieux is one of my bankers of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. She should be part of everyone’s day one Cheltenham Festival bets. While she features in many of my multiples, events 12 months ago and the fact three places will be available means some profit could be made from an each-way punt too.

I wouldn’t put anyone off backing Stormy Ireland each-way, or even last year’s shock winner, Roksana. However, at the prices, MAGIC OF LIGHT holds plenty of appeal to me.

Jessica Harrington’s mare finished seventh in the Ultima before going on to place second in the Grand National last year. Magic Of Light is now rated a little too high to take part in that handicap, so the Mares’ Hurdle is the only realistic option left to Harrington and Magic Of Light has shown over the past few seasons that she can perform to a very high level over the smaller obstacles.

Magic Of Light will be my outside tip in this Grade One, but I can’t see any other winner than Benie Des Dieux.

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