This year’s David Nicholson Mares Hurdle will see Willie Mullins’ hotshot Quevega bid to win the race for a fourth consecutive time.
The lightly raced eight-year-old has not been seen since the 2011 Punchestown Festival where she followed up her tremendous third Cheltenham win with a one-and-a-quarter-length victory over the useful Mourad.
Mullins has at times come under scrutiny from the racing public for wrapping his charge up in cotton wool and not allowing her the opportunity to take her chance in the Champion Hurdle.
But whilst it is debatable whether Quevega would have the quality, gears and turn of foot to win the Festival’s Hurdling showpiece, she is undoubtedly the queen of the mares division and is heavily fancied to confirm her superiority once more in 2012.
Her general ante post odds of around 1/2 are unlikely to inflate by the time the runners and riders are at the post and for many punters she will be the banker of the meeting and a potential recovery bet for lost stakes on the first day.
It is hard to oppose Quevega who runs extremely well fresh and will be primed to the maximum for the occasion.
But due to her ultra-short price, there is consequently a lot of decent each way chances which could give backers a decent run for their cash at longer odds.
After an excellent victory in the Istabraq Hurdle where she beat decent hurdling yardstick Thousand Stars, Unaccompanied was outclassed by Champion Hurdle hero Hurricane Fly in the Irish equivalent.
That defeat immediately influenced trainer Dermot Weld to seek a more realistic Cheltenham target and the five-year-old thus bids to take on Quevega instead of re-opposing Hurricane Fly and Zarkandar who beat her in last year’s Triumph Hurdle.
Unaccompanied undoubtedly possesses a lot of class and is sure to get better with experience.
She may not be quite ready to sink the favourite however she could go close if running well up the Cheltenham hill again and looks an obvious each way selection at odds of up to 6/1.
Swincombe Flame, trained by Nick Williams, also has to be respected after a fine campaign to date.
The six-year-old battled home to beat the talented Featherbed Lane by a nose in the Lanzarote Hurdle, before running a decent third behind potential star Bourne at Ascot.
Those efforts are more than solid and there is a strong chance that with further improvement likely, Swincombe Flame could be unexposed and consequently a great each way wager at prices touching 12/1.
Elsewhere, Paul Webber’s Alasi reverts back to the smaller obstacles after a spell over fences whilst Paul Nicholls’ will be represented by Violin Davis who reversed the form with Kentford Grey Lady to win a decent looking race at Ascot in January.
Kentford Grey Lady also looks set to take her place in the field alongside recent Thurles winner Dare to Doubt who may be a popular outsider for the Irish should they wish to take on Quevega.
© Frixo 2016