Cheltenham Festival Eye-Catchers: Five horses for the notebook including a Mares' Hurdle contender

Dan Overall has an each-way play for the Mares' Hurdle
Dan Overall has an each-way play for the Mares' Hurdle

We head towards March and the Cheltenham Festival is on the horizon and our regular columnist Dan Overall is back with his latest list of eye-catchers, and he picks out an exciting mare that could be a major player in the Mares' Hurdle next month...

Tuesday 22nd February – 14:10 Market Rasen – Gentle Connections (2nd)

Having shaped with plenty of promise on her first two starts over intermediate trips, it was slightly surprising to see Gentle Connections dropped back to two miles here on her first start for 53 days.

Given a patient ride, she was unsurprisingly a tad outpaced as the front two forged on, but her staying credentials were on display as she kept to her task well, eventually finishing a clear second, for all that she was no match for the winner.

This was her third start over hurdles so she will be eligible for a handicap mark now and perhaps it will prove a shrewd move to run her over an inadequate trip on this occasion. As a half-sister to Midnight River, she will be of interest in handicaps over intermediate distances.

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Tuesday 22nd February – 15:40 Taunton – Langer Dan (6th)

Ever since his gallant second in last season’s Martin Pipe, Langar Dan has been a leading fancy for this year’s renewal; with support growing when Galopin Des Champs franked that form in no uncertain terms. 

Dan Skelton made no secret of the fact that he wouldn’t be seen till late in the season, with the only uncertainty being whether he would try to attempt the Imperial Cup-Cheltenham double again.

But it seems as though the main focus is the Martin Pipe, and I’m sure the Skelton team would have been pleased with his reappearance, despite finishing last, with Tom Messenger stating before the race that they were here to “blow the cobwebs away”. 

Unsurprisingly weak in the market, he was held up in a tactically run affair, looking briefly outpaced as the race began to develop before staying on at the finish. Ajero won here and, ironically, also won a race at Market Rasen this time last season that Langar Dan used a prep before winning the Imperial Cup; his Cheltenham backers will be hoping that it’s a lucky omen.

Wednesday 23rd February – 13:00 Punchestown – Queens Brook (2nd)

Burning Victory was well backed and duly delivered in the Quevega Mares' Hurdle, but the horse to take out of the race is Queens Brook.

Returning from a 113-day break, she would have almost certainly needed the run and I’m sure connections will have been delighted with this effort. Racing in second throughout behind Burning Victory, who enjoyed an uncontested lead, Queens Brook seemed to get outpaced on the turn for home but kept on well, closing all the way to the line. Perhaps Burning Victory idled on the run in, but there was a lot to like about how Queens Brook finished off her race.

Queens Brook was conceding 3lbs to Burning Victory here; they will race off level weights in the Mares’ Hurdle, and when you consider the narrow margin of defeat, the fact that Burning Victory will not get to dictate matters from the front at Cheltenham, plus the likelihood of significant improvement from Queens Brook, the latter would be the one I would side with in March.

Gordon Elliott has long held his mare in high regard, and it should not be forgotten that she finished third to Ferny Hollow and Appreciate It in the 2020 Champion Bumper on just her second start under rules. 

The Mares’ Hurdle is a very open contest, and the 9/1 about Queens Brook is solid each-way value.

Mares' Hurdle
Queens Brook silk

Queens Brook

Wednesday 23rd February – 13:50 Ludlow – Biowavego (4th)

Out of a sister to Jonjo O’Neill’s smart hurdler Get Me Out Of Here, there is a lot to like about Biowavego’s pedigree and his racecourse debut was full of promise.

Notably green in the early stages, he was conceding experience and race fitness to his rivals but there was a lot to like about the way he finished off his race, for all that he was unable to go with the leaders once they began to quicken.

Kevin Brogan didn’t give his mount an unduly hard time once his winning chance had gone, although he did hit the line very strongly having passed a few beaten horses in the home straight. 

All in all, this was a good debut under Rules and he should be capable of winning a maiden hurdle in the coming months. 

Saturday 26th February – 13:50 Kempton – Teddy Blue (2nd)

An interesting renewal of the Adonis saw a few disappointing performances, while Knight Salute made it five from five over hurdles.

But the run of Teddy Blue was a noteworthy one; fairly unfancied having been beaten in a Lingfield maiden on his first start over hurdles just eleven days ago, he ran a superb race in defeat and might well have won had he not made a terrible blunder at the final flight. 

A very keen goer, he won over 1m6f on the flat in France and clearly possesses a lot of ability, although he will need to learn to settle better in the future. He does have an entry for the Triumph Hurdle, but I wonder if Aintree may be a more appropriate target for him. Either way, connections have every right to aim high, and should he fail to land a big prize in the coming months, he will remain eligible for novice hurdles next season. He could also run on the flat given his background in that sphere, so connections will have plenty of options for him moving forward.

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