David Nicholson Mares Hurdle Betting

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On opening day at the annual Cheltenham Festival, the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle is the premier event for fillies and mares aged four years and upwards. The Grade 2 National Hunt horse race covers two miles and four and a half furlongs on the left-handed turf of Cheltenham’s Old Course, with a total of nine hurdles to be negotiated.

The four-year-olds carry a weight of 10 stone 6 pounds, while those aged five and up receive an allocation of 11 stone even. There are penalties for previous wins within the past 18 months applied, too, amounting to 5 pounds for a Class 1 weight-for-age hurdle and 3 pounds for a Class 1 handicap or Class 2 WFA hurdle.

The mares’ only event is one of the Festival’s newest races, inaugurated in 2008 at the urging of owners, trainers, and breeders. Their lobby was endorsed by the Cheltenham Executive, who decided to name the race in honour of the legendary Cotswold-based jumps trainer David “The Duke” Nicholson (1939~2006).

A staunch supporter of British breeding, Nicholson had been a successful jockey early in his career, riding more than 600 winners between 1951 and 1972. The Duke took out his first training licence in 1968 and went on to train almost 1,500 winners. He was named Champion Trainer of 1993-94 and then won the title again the following season.

Nicholson retired in 1999, but only after leaving his indelible mark on Cheltenham with five victories as a jockey and seventeen as a trainer. His horse Charter Party won the 1988 Cheltenham Gold Cup by six lengths with 24-year-old Richard Dunwoody on board. The Duke also claimed the Queen Mother Champion Chase twice with Viking Flagship (1994~95) and the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 1998 with Waterloo Boy as well as the 1999 ladbrokes World Hurdle with Anzum in one of the master trainer’s last appearances.

Today, the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle features a total prize fund of £75,000. For the 2010 running, the purse was a bit higher—£90,000—as 6/4 favourite Quevega came in first for the second year in a row, winning £50,697. Ruby Walsh was the jockey and Willie Mullins the trainer on both occasions.

The inaugural David Nicholson Mares Hurdle was taken by five-year-old Whiteoak, ridden by Jason Maguire and trained by Donald McCain. That year, the race was contested on Cheltenham’s New Course on the final day of the Festival.

It had always been the organisers’ intention to have a seventh race on Gold Cup Day, but in 2009, the decision was taken to move the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle up to opening day. This action reinforced the importance of the event and the BHB Race Planning Committee’s desire for a new, stronger series of Pattern races for mares in the earlier months of the jump racing season.

In 2011, Quevega will approach the starting line as the odds-on favourite at 5/4 to pull off the hat trick. Challenging her in the field are 15 other jumpers, headed by 2010’s third-place finisher Voler La Vedette starting at 6/1, Sparky May touted at 7/1, and Tarla fancied at 8/1. The previous year’s second-place finisher, Caroles Legacy, will also be running again, with odds of 16/1 being offered ante post, while the 2010 fourth-place mare, Amber Brook, is not expected to be a factor, coming to the track at 33/1.

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