Mares Novice Hurdle Tips – Mullins Can Continue Dominance

The runners bunch up rounding the bend in the 2019 Mares' Novices' Hurdle.

The runners bunch up rounding the bend in the 2019 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

2021 Mares Novice Hurdle Tips

It’s one of the newest races at the Cheltenham Festival and Daniel Overall has been tasked with finding us the winner of this contest, which takes place after the Stayers Hurdle on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival.

2021 Mares Novice Hurdle Overview

First run in 2016, the first three renewals were won by short-priced favourites where as the previous two renewals had a far more open look to them, with twenty-two mares lining up in 2019 and 2020.

This year’s race looks competitive; Shewearsitwell emerged as an early favourite but she has since been ruled out of the festival, while no other mare has been able to stamp her authority on the division.

Willie Mullins – The Master of Mares

Given his dominance in the Mares’ Hurdle, it’s not surprising that Willie Mullins has stamped his authority on the novice equivalent.

He’s won all five renewals thus far, with a further three hitting the frame from 19 runners in total, while he saddled the first two home in both 2019 and 2020.

Gauloise made an impressive debut for Mullins when winning a maiden hurdle at Thurles, coasting clear of Global Equity who is now rated 125. She backed that up with a good win in listed company ahead of Mighty Blue (20/1) which propelled her to the top of the market for this race. Beaten in the Solerina at Fairyhouse when last seen, she ran a fair race and upheld the form with Mighty Blue but she was a tad disappointing. Gauloise supporters will take solace from the fact that Dolcita ran a very similar race in the Solerina before finishing second at Cheltenham and she has every chance of bouncing back in a similar style, although she will have to shoulder a 5lb penalty for her Listed success.

Mullins is likely to have his fair share of runners, with the free going Echoes In Rain (20/1) looking likely to line up. Fourth in the Moscow Flyer, her presence will make sure that the race is run at a strong pace although she may just set things up for her rivals. Finest Evermore (33/1) was disappointing in a listed race when last seen but she had looked very good before that and she’d be entitled to respect were she to run here given her trainers record in the race.

One who doesn’t feature in the market at the time of writing this but who was given favourable mentions in early season stable tours is Harmonie Star. A well touted recruit from France, she has yet to run for Willie Mullins but was reportedly due out in the second half of this season. Only a four-year-old, she could well be one for next season; don’t be surprised if she emerges as one of the favourites for this race in 2022.

Five-year-olds have won four of the five renewals, as have French bred horses; Gauloise qualifies on both fronts, as does Hook Up. Well beaten in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, that was just her second start over hurdles and she’s looked an improved performer this term. An easy winner of maiden hurdle when beating a subsequent winner, she could only manage second in a decent race next time out before running an eye-catching race at the Dublin Racing Festival when fourth behind Appreciate It.

While her jumping can often lack fluency, the fact that there are only two hurdles to be jumped in the final seven-furlongs on the new course will aid her cause. She has a good profile for this race and on the back of a great effort against the boys, a big run can be expected. 

Other Irish Contenders

Roseys Hollow (15/2) emerged as a leading contender after her Grade 3 win in the Solerina. Beaten on her first two runs over hurdles, she has progressed with each start and she beat two leading contenders last time out. She will carry a 5lb penalty for that success if she runs at Cheltenham, which isn’t certain with connections keen “to take it one day at a time”. Owned by JP McManus and with trainer Jonathan Sweeney only ever having one previous runner at the Cheltenham Festival, it would be surprising if she did not take up this engagement. 

Two from three over hurdles, Royal Kahala (7/1) beat Hook Up in January before finishing second in the Solerina on her most recent outing. While it was a good effort, it was a tad disappointing given her earlier promise, although trainer Peter Fahey did subsequently note that “she was a little bit stiff and sore afterwards… we found a few little bits with her… she’ll probably improve from that a good bit”.

It’s also important to note that she won’t carry a penalty, meaning she’ll be 9lb better off with Roseys Hollow and 6lb better off with Gauloise. A strong stayer, she looks like she’ll appreciate a strongly run race although it is worth noting that she isn’t certain to run here, with connections also targeting the Grade 1 at Fairyhouse over the Easter period.  

Third in the Champion Bumper, Queens Brook (25/1) made a winning start over hurdles but she hasn’t progressed as expected. Not seen since finishing well behind Concertista in November, she’ll appreciate a strongly run race but she does look in need of further. She’s one to note when the handicap entries come out; we haven’t seen the best of her yet which may leave her attractively weighted. However, if she were to run here, she would have a better chance than her current odds of 25/1 suggest given the strength of her form behind Appreciate It and Ferny Hollow at last year’s festival.

Sold for £600 out of Willie Mullins yard, Skyace (16/1) has turned out to be a terrific bargain. A winner of four of her eight starts for Shark Hanlon, she beat the aforementioned Queens Brook in a Grade 3 before winning a Listed race impressively under a penalty on her most recent start. Given her two most recent efforts, it’s surprising that she’s such a big price; perhaps she would be shorter if she was still with Willie Mullins. 

British Challengers

This race has not been kind to British contenders thus far; from 43 runners, just five have hit the frame, with Cap Soleil (2018) being the only runner to finish second.

The Glancing Queen (14/1) ran creditably in two Champion Bumpers and she has made a decent start to life over hurdles. A winner of two of her four starts over obstacles, she was no match for Bravemansgame in the Challow and she had a hard race when second behind Wilde About Oscar at Exeter when last seen which wouldn’t be the ideal preparation for Cheltenham.

Nicky Henderson has a couple of potential runners who he said are “well above average and under normal circumstances would head for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle”; they are Gran Luna (40/1) and Ahorsewithnoname (40/1). The former has only raced twice under rules, winning a bumper and a novice hurdle by narrow margins. Held in high regard, there’s more to come but this a tough ask on what would be just her second start over hurdles. The latter was useful on the flat for Brian Ellison (also won a bumper) and she split Pink Sheets and Mrs Hyde when finishing second on her debut over hurdles; an encouraging effort given that it was a listed race, staying on well having looked as if she’s finish down the field. Like her stablemate, there should be more to come.

Mares Novice Hurdle Big-Race Verdict

A difficult puzzle to solve. Given his domination of the race thus far, the sensible option is to stick with Willie Mullins, with Hook Up being preferred to Gauloise. Like last year’s winner, she has Cheltenham Festival experience while her run at the Dublin Racing Festival was hugely encouraging. Royal Kahala is feared most, while The Glancing Queen can run well for Alan King, who trained Dusky Legend to place twice in this race.