Quevega to land unique five-in-a-row
10-year-old became first horse in history to win six races at the Cheltenham Festival
Ruby Walsh on Quevega (right) crosses the line to win The Olbg Mares’ Hurdle Race during The Festival Champion Day at Cheltenham Racecourse. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Quevega, Irish racing’s most celebrated mare, aims for a unique five-in-a-row in today’s Punchestown Grade 1 highlight and does so with even more than the usual speculation surrounding her.
Since speculation is an inevitable consequence of celebrity, and the Willie Mullins trained star has built up a legendary CV built around fleeting appearances, the Quevega camp are used to the rumour mill which this time appears to centre on their pride and joy’s private life.
A determined ‘no comment’ approach hasn’t dampened reports Quevega has been covered, with a number of top stallions being mentioned as the happy other-party. Since that could mean one of the most remarkable racing careers in modern times may be winding down, there will be even more focus on the little mare when she lines up again in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle.
Although already assured of a place in history with her unequalled Cheltenham six-in-a-row, it can be argued that Quevega’s true merits over the years have always been established at Punchestown.
Especially in handicap terms it has been today’s three mile E200,000 feature that has sealed her top-flight status, in the process indicating how she often steps up her performance on the back of a return to action at Cheltenham and a hike up to three miles.
For the last two years Quevega’s defeats of Reve De Sivola and Voler La Vedette have been outstanding and much more visually impressive than what she achieved in the OLBG Hurdle over a month previously.
The prospect of a repeat of that pattern leaves her stable companion Glens Melody, an admirable three quarter length runner up at Cheltenham, with a formidable task to reverse the form while ground conditions look to have gone against many of the hardy stamina stalwarts who have plenty to find on Quevega anyway.
There was no indication of a decline of the favourite’s legendary grit and enthusiasm at Cheltenham and Mullins yesterday reported: “It’s been a lucky race for us over the years and is ready to go and in great form.” Success today will allow Quevega beat Hurricane Fly to the punch by becoming the first to win a Grade 1 race here on five occasions.
Two unknown quantities for Quevega are the cross-channel runners, At Fishers Cross and Fingal Bay, although whether or not ground conditions will suit either of them ideally is not certain.
At Fishers Cross has exhibited top class form all season without winning, or enjoying much luck. At Aintree last time one of his shoes came loose, causing him to jump right, contributing to a defeat by Whisper. He did however appear to handle better ground perfectly fine at Cheltenham when third in the World Hurdle there and it’s important to remember he was Tony McCoy’s pick there.
Fingal Bay wound up winning the Pertemps at Cheltenham in a driving finish which has seen the form franked since, not least by the Grand National hero Pineau De Re.
Jockey Richard Johnson has endured chasing Quevega on Reve De Sivola before but is on Fingal Bay now and said yesterday: “It’s a step up to a Grade 1 but the Cheltenham form has obviously worked out very well. He needs to improve on what he’s done so far to beat a horse like Quevega who is an exceptional mare. But I’m hopeful he’ll put up a bold show. There’s a bit of rain forecast and that would definitely be a help.”
Johnson though neatly summed up the task facing Quevega’s opposition. In seventeen starts for Mullins she has been beaten just four times and two of those were back in her native France. Around Punchestown she always gets people talking. Expect more of that today.