The fifth race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival sees some of the finest mares compete over two and a half miles for this Grade 1 title, the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.
The winner will receive a trophy named in memory of David Nicholson who was a both a successful jockey and National Hunt trainer. Officially this race is registered as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle though the name has been changed for sponsorship reasons.
Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Course Map (Old Course)
Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Past Winners
|2023||Honeysuckle||9/4||Henry de Bromhead||Rachael Blackmore|
|2022||Marie's Rock||18/1||Nicky Henderson||Nico de Boinville|
|2021||Black Tears||11/1||Denise Foster||Jack Kennedy|
|2020||Honeysuckle||9/4||Henry De Bromhead||Rachael Blackmore|
|2019||Roksana||10/1||Dan Skelton||Harry Skelton|
|2018||Benie Des Dieux||9/2||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2017||Apple’s Jade||7/2||Gordon Elliott||Bryan Cooper|
|2016||Vroum Vroum Mag||4/6||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2015||Glens Melody||6/1||Willie Mullins||Paul Townend|
|2014||Quevega||8/11||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2013||Quevega||8/11||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2012||Quevega||4/7||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2011||Quevega||5/6||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2010||Quevega||6/4||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2009||Quevega||2/1||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2008||Whiteoak||20/1||Donald McCain, Jr.||Jason Maguire|
About the Mares’ Hurdle: First of the Female Only Festival Contests
The Cheltenham Festival is a British sporting institution. It’s been attracting racing fans to Prestbury Park since 1860 and continues to grow in popularity thanks to the organisers’ desire to never rest on their laurels. This drive for continual improvement saw the addition of a fourth day at the Festival which, in turn, saw the creation of several races in the years that followed.
The Mares’ Hurdle is one of those which became part of the Cheltenham Festival in that time. This 2 mile 4 furlong race, which is open to four year old mares and older, was inaugurated in 2008 when it was named after the popular, late former jockey and trainer, David Nicholson, who had died two years previous. It’s still registered as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle but is now officially known as the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle as of 2020 when that company took on sponsorship.
The name is not the only thing to change about the Mares’ Hurdle since its introduction. Having been initially introduced as a Grade 2 race, it was promoted to Grade 1 level in 2015. The Mares’ Hurdle has also switched from the last day of the Festival to the first and therefore from Cheltenham’s New Course to the Old Course.
Queen Quevega Dominates
The relatively unheralded Whiteoak won the first Mares’ Hurdle but from then on it was all about one horse – Quevaga. The wonder-mare won this race an incredible six years in a row. The Willie Mullins-trained French mare was accompanied each time by Ruby Walsh.
Quevega’s Career Race Victories
|11/3/2014||Mares’ Hurdle||Cheltenham||8/11 Fav||£48k|
|25/4/2013||Champion Stayers Hurdle||Punchestown||6/4||€105k|
|12/3/2013||Mares’ Hurdle||Cheltenham||8/11 Fav||£48k|
|26/4/2012||Champion Stayers Hurdle||Punchestown||11/10 Fav||€100k|
|13/3/2012||Mares’ Hurdle||Cheltenham||4/7 Fav||£39k|
|5/5/2011||Champion Stayers Hurdle||Punchestown||8/11 Fav||€100k|
|15/3/2011||Mares’ Hurdle||Cheltenham||5/6 Fav||£39k|
|22/4/2010||Champion Stayers Hurdle||Punchestown||5/2 Fav||€105k|
|16/3/2010||Mares’ Hurdle||Cheltenham||6/4 Fav||£51k|
|10/3/2009||Mares’ Hurdle||Cheltenham||2/1 Fav||£56k|
|2/4/2008||Duggan Novice Hurdle||Gowran Park||5/4 Fav||€12k|
|12/11/2007||Prix des Guilledines||Durtal||8/5 Fav||£10k|
|14/9/2007||Prix Louis Charbonnier||Vichy||12/5 Fav||£3k|
Younger mares have a better record than older ones which makes Quevaga’s wins from five to ten years of age all the more impressive.
Mullins the Man to Beat
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh teamed up for further Mares’ Hurdles wins with Vroum Vroum Mag and Benie Des Dieux, whilst Annie Power’s failure in 2015 was one of the biggest shocks of that year’s Festival (Mullins still trained the winner that year as Glens Melody made the most of the favourite’s late fall).
Mullins’ domination of the Mares’ Hurdle could well go on for some time but other trainers with big reputations including Henry de Bromhead, Gordon Elliott, Nicky Henderson and Harry Fry regularly target their best mares for this big prize. With Mullins boasting nine wins from the first eleven renewals of this great race the rest have some serious catching up to do though.
Runners’ Options Often Left Open
As the Mares’ Hurdle comes on the first day of the Cheltenham week, it’s one of those races which attracts entries from horses with multiple Festival options. This means the ante post betting can be a little quiet, with bettors unsure if their fancies will take up their opening day engagement.
As punters may choose to keep their powder dry, the bookies do offer some tempting options in the early betting so it can be worth taking a speculative punt or two even before the final line up is confirmed. Another thing to consider is that the lack of a novices’ chase for mares means some international horses who have been competing over fences will often be reverted to hurdles for a crack at the winner’s prize which was over £72,000 in 2023.