What's the best bet for the Mares' Hurdle?
16:10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, 2m4f
Last year’s 1-2-3: Glens Melody (6/1), Polly Peachum, Bitofapuzzle – 15 ran.
With Annie Power (ante post favourite for this) almost certain to be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle, the mantle of favouritism falls on her stablemate Vroum Vroum Mag, though she too has other option at at the festival (Ryanair, World Hurdle). Still, it would be a major surprise if she weren’t to line up as she’s an odds-on chance with bookmakers and Grade 1s don’t grow on trees. Unbeaten in eight starts in Britain and Ireland – six chases and two hurdles – she’s undoubtedly got a touch of class and is a worthy market leader. The slight concern with her is that she jumps fences so well and such horses rarely make better hurdlers. Both her hurdle wins this term have come against inferior opposition and she’s now facing the best of her sex and doesn’t have that much in hand strictly on the ratings. Top price: 5/4 William Hill (11/10 Paddy Power NRNB).
Who else is fancied?
Last year’s runner-up Polly Peachum – the only other horse at a single-figure price – looks almost certain to run her race again having had a much better preparation. At last year’s meeting, she was having having her first start since being pulled up at Kempton in November and was very keen in the early stages, whereas this time round she arrives on the back of a win, that coming in a Listed event at Sandown in early January. This is likely to be her last race as she’s off to stud and connections will have left nothing to chance in terms of fitness, so it’s not hard to see her enhancing her career record at the track (form figures of 12) further.
And the rest?
Then a novice, Bitofapuzzle was looking booked for fourth last year and owed her third place to the last flight fall of Annie Power, but she might do better this year. An impressive winner of a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse last April, when value for far more than her winning margin of just over four lengths, she got her chasing career off to the perfect starts when hacking up at Exeter in December, only for the wheels to come off in two subsequent runs. She jumped poorly prior to falling at Thurles and capitulated tamely in the closing stages of a Grade 2 at Wetherby last time, eventually being pulled up. It would be no surprise then to see connections switch her back to hurdles for the rest of this season and if she runs anywhere at the festival it will be here, with better ground in her favour.
Several of these finished well behind Vroum Vroum Vroum Mag at Ascot last time (soft), with The Govaness faring best in fifth. Desert Queen, a stablemate of Bitofapuzzle, stopped quickly and weakened into seventh and Aurore D’Estruval finished a tailed off ninth. All three could conceivably finish a lot closer on better ground.
Best bookie offer?
Paddy Power are refunding losing stakes on horses that finish second in all the Cheltenham Festival races as a free bet up to £25, whilst most firms are going NRNB and a couple – bet365 and Sky Bet – are also Best Odds Guaranteed.
What’s the verdict?
Vroum Vroum Mag impressed when beating Jennies Jewel at Ascot last time but the runner-up hardly advertised the form next time and the third has since been beaten in handicaps. Still, she can only beat what’s put in front of her and will be many people’s idea of a banker bet. I’m not in that camp, though, and will point to her jumping technique – she has a tendency to balloon the odd hurdle – as one reason to take her on at what is a stingy price. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a total shock if POLLY PEACHUM were to beat her and Nicky Henderson’s consistent mare looks a cast-iron each-way bet with Paddy Power, who will refund the winning part of our bet (as a free bet) should she again hit the crossbar. Of those at bigger prices, I like Desert Queen (25/1 bet365 NRNB). She might have been feeling the effects of a couple of hard races when trailing home last time and the stable is in much better form now.
SELECTION: Polly Peachum each-way @ 6/1 Paddy Power NRNB & Money back if 2nd