Willie Mullins believes Quevega is stronger than ever as she bids for a fourth successive triumph in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Since winning this prize for the first time in 2009, the eight-year-old has actually only graced the racecourse six times, delighting punters with two further victories at Prestbury Park as well as registering two wins against the boys at Punchestown.
As has become tradition, she makes her seasonal reappearance in this Grade Two contest, better known as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, but the Irish champion trainer could not be happier with her condition.
“She travelled over well and Jess, who rides her all the time, thinks she’s stronger than she was when she rode her out at Cheltenham last year,” said Mullins.
“We’re happy with the ground for her and fingers crossed all goes well.”
Mullins also saddles Dare To Doubt, a recent winner over fences at Thurles.
“Dare To Doubt won her chase last time, but she schooled well at the Curragh the other day over hurdles,” the trainer added.
“On her Irish hurdle form, she has a great chance of getting some good place money.”
Second in the betting to the long odds-on Quevega is the Prunella Dobbs-trained Our Girl Salley.
She has won seven times in Ireland and altough she was beaten over three miles at Ascot last time, jockey Andrew Lynch feels she will be more effective over this shorter trip.
“I rode her in Punchestown and she ran well, then she won well at Christmas. She seems in good form,” Lynch told At The Races.
“Quevega is a good mare, but Salley is not too bad either, so hopefully she can run well. She may be better over two and a half miles, I think.”
One of the better hopes for the home team is Alasi, trained by Paul Webber.
She has mixed it over hurdles and fences to good effect this season, winning four times with the only blot on her copybook a parting with jockey Dominic Elsworth in a chase at Kempton.
“She seems to be in good form and we’ve decided to take the hurdling route. Kempton rather threw us off the chasing trail,” said Webber.
“We were lucky that race at Doncaster came along and she got her Grade Two win there despite not really being at her best.
“She was a bit flat there after Kempton but we think she’s freshened up really well.
“Obviously Quevega is the one to beat, but you can’t win if you don’t run.
“We’ll see which direction we head in after Cheltenham. We could go back to chasing at Aintree or Punchestown, I don’t really know yet.
“I think she’s in good form for this though, she’s run in the race the last couple of years and she seems to have improved again.”