Cheltenham: Highland Retreat primed for Mares’ Hurdle

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It almost appears to be an act of treason to take on Willie Mullins’ super-mare Quevega such is the affection held for the 10-year-old who’s vanquished all of her rivals in the previous five renewals of the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.

But at odds of 4/7 there’s surely got to be some value left in a race full of hungry young pretenders?

Quevega is unbeaten since May 2009 but the manner of her victory at last year’s Festival had even the staunchest of her fans on tenterhooks as Ruby Walsh came under severe pressure to deliver leading up to the line.

That one-and-a-half-length score was easily the slimmest margin of victory she’d enjoyed from her previous successes and there are plenty of others capable of reeling that in further.

Last year’s runner-up Sirene D’Ainay is available at 9/1 to go one better this time but her patchy form in small fields in France is good enough reason to avoid the Emmanuel Clayeaux-trained mare.

Instead, Harry Fry’s Highland Retreat could be the festival party-pooper with odds of 16/1 offered by Ladbrokes.

Unbeaten in three races this season the talented seven-year-old continues to improve and while she’s shown she’s more than able over 3m, the step down in trip here shouldn’t be too much of a problem for an entry who’ll need that stamina to beat Quevega up the hill.

Winning a Grade Two trial at Ascot last time out was no mean feat and at the current price even an each-way bet could reap dividends.

Meanwhile, John Quinn is another trainer who’s been quick to outline the chances of his runner, the 8/1 shot, Cockney Sparrow.

AP McCoy takes the reins aboard this season’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle runner-up with Quinn bullish about her hopes, despite this being the five-year-old’s first attempt at the 2m4f trip.

He told The Northern Echo: “Drying ground would suit her and I don’t know if she will stay but if she does she will run a big race.”

Of course, all of the above could prove immaterial should the Quevega who’s captured the hearts of racing fans once again turn in another remarkable performance from fresh.

Mullins’ star has no questions to answer on previous form. But if she’s to make history and become the first horse to win six times at the Festival then she’ll have to do it the hard way in a race that might not be as straightforward as many people think.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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