Benie Des Dieux heads the Cheltenham Mares' Hurdle betting, with a Quevega-esque task to under-take on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Her famous stablemate won six David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle in succession, generally running just once in between at the Punchestown festival in April. Trainer Willie Mullins has proven a master at this tactic, also producing Penhill to win the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham last year, having not run since the previous April.
She is the odds-on favourite in some betting lists, and certainly no bigger than 11/10, many - including the Mullins team - ranking her their banker of the meeting. But the race is not immune to upset, and Mullins himself has a host of other top-class runners, waiting to capitalise on any mistake the favourite might make.
The David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle is a 2m4f Grade 1 hurdle race open to female horses only. It's run in memory of trainer David Nicholson, famed for once training the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It's worth £120,000 and has been one by trainer Willie Mullins nine times in 11 renewals.
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There are few reliable David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle trends because Willie Mullins's prolific scorer Quevega won six in a row from 2009 to 2014, but what does seem key, is that Mullins rules the roost.
He is dominant not just in this mares' race, but in all mares' jumps races, so his 2019 Cheltenham Mares' Hurdle betting favourite Benie Des Dieux has to be respected. Trainer Willie Mullins and his team feel she is their banker of the Cheltenham Festival, and her odds of no bigger than 11/10 with 888Sport are more Double, Treble, or Lucky 15 territory than an outright bet.
If you do analysis the trends, the second tip is Stormy Ireland, who was well-beaten by Champion Hurdle contender Laurina at Punchestown last time out, but had previously won a Listed hurdle at Punchestown. Her Irish rating of 145 puts her bang in the mix, Benie Des Dieux ranked 151, and her odds are not terrible at 8/1 with Black Type. The one concern is her front-running style; it burnt her out last time she came to Cheltenham for the Triumph Hurdle last year.
Last year's Mares' Novices' Hurdle runner-up Cap Soleil is very interesting at 25/1 with all the leading Cheltenham bookmakers too; she hasn't run since Cheltenham last year, but absolutely loves the place and is reported in good heart by trainer Fergal O'Brien below.
>> Bet on Cap Soleil each-way at 25/1 with Black Type
"Limini just hasn’t fired this year, but is another horse I’m hoping will show her best form at Cheltenham. Benie Des Dieux is in great order. Ground-wise we haven't been able to get a run into her.
"We've had to go the Quevega route. She might have run last month, there were a couple of races, but with the new flu jab rule I just went and got them all done, that ruled her out of those races. I thought I’d rather get the flu jab done than race her. Things haven't been going her way, but hopefully they will when she gets to Cheltenham."
"I don't read too much into ratings, but she ran to within single figures of her best at Sandown. If she can do that, needing the run and it being over two miles, it gives considerable cause for positivity - because she is going to step up in trip to two and a half miles, which is perfect. She handled the undulations at Sandown, and I don't think that would be an issue because she is an uncomplicated mare."
"She finished second to Laurina last year (in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle). She hasn’t raced since then because she has had little niggles and little tweaks, but hopefully the last month she has been really well, so we are looking forward to getting her back on the track. It’s a big ask to go to Cheltenham for your first run, but she loves the place and is a lovely mare."
Benie Des Dieux came late and hard to win by half a length in last year's Cheltenham Mares' Hurdle, but went on to canter to victory in the Punchestown equivalent on less testing ground. There's no doubt forecast soft conditions will suit the French-bred, who leads the team aiming to give trainer Willie Mullins a 10th win in the Grade 1. She has won twice before after breaks of more than 300 days, and is unbeaten for Mullins in five outings. Added to this, she is the highest-rated runner in the field at 151 on Irish ratings.
Stormy Ireland came to Cheltenham for the Triumph Hurdle last year, and led until just before falling at the last. She was beaten at the time, and repeated the performance at Punchestown. She is undoubtedly talented, having won her maiden hurdle by 58 lengths, but her style of running makes it hard to see her winning over 2m4f up the Cheltenham hill.
Limini won the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle on her first run at Cheltenham and went on to be third to the brilliant Apple's Jade in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle. She was then off for more that a year and came back last summer to enjoy a prosperous Flat campaign, but her return to hurdles in December was less than inspiring. However, she did run up to her mark behind Presenting Percy at Gowran Park in January, over a trip perhaps further than her best. She could really surprise at Cheltenham this week.
Cap Soleil was beaten 18 lengths by Laurina in the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle last year, but that rival has gone on to become a live Champion Hurdle contender. She's never finished out of the first two in seven racecourse appearances, and won her only other outing at Cheltenham: a Listed bumper. She's probably not the class to beat Benie Des Dieux, but her enthusiasm for the course is sure to see her run well. The concern is that she hasn't run since March last year, though she did win her first ever race, and has won after 243 days off too.
Mias Storm is among those hoping for a halt to predicted rain as trainer Alan King has said she will not run if the ground becomes very soft. The dual Listed race winner has had a perfect season, winning two races from two runs, though both were over a lot further than Cheltenham's 2m4f.
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