With the Cheltenham Festival around the corner, racing expert Rhys Williams analyses the Mares Novices Hurdle, and reveals as to why Mullins will continue his success in this race...
"She started off this season with an impressive success when making all over 2m at Fairyhouse."
Most of the non-handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival are covered over and over again and that focus tends to suck any value out of the market. One race that doesn't apply to is the Mares' Novices' Hurdle, understandably so given that some would rather the race wasn't part of the Cheltenham Festival in the first place.
One person who is very happy with its position at the Festival is Willie Mullins who has won every running of the race since its inception in 2016.
His initial leading hope for this race, Shewearsitwell, was reported to have a setback and unlikely to make Cheltenham but I think he has a very good replacement in Hook Up.
Mullins may have the answer, again
She started off this season with an impressive success when making all over 2m at Fairyhouse. She made a slight error at the same hurdle on both circuits, the second and the last, but apart from that her jumping was generally slick and the runner up won a maiden hurdle next time.
She was beaten next time by Royal Kahala, who is in front of her in the betting for the Mares' Novices' Hurdle, but the combination of more testing ground and the 2½f longer trip looked to be against her. She jumped to the front at 2 out and quickened a couple of lengths clear but she made a bad mistake at the last and couldn't hold off the challenge of Royal Kahala on the run in. Even without the mistake from Hook Up, Royal Kahala may well have won as she was staying on well at the time.
Hook Up was stepped back down in trip to 2m and up in class to a Grade 1 for her most recent outing at the Dublin Racing Festival. Different tactics were used on this occasion as she was held up at the back of the field. She jumped awfully over most of the first five hurdles but was still travelling well leaving the back straight.
She made a bit of headway into tenth at 2 out but she looked to be staying on well when going out of camera shot just after turning into the home straight. When coming back into shot just before the last, she had almost moved into a share of third and she kept running on to finish fourth.
Considering the mistakes that Hook Up made in the early part of the race and that this was only an evenly run race, she did very well to finish 7½ lengths behind the Supreme Novices' favourite, Appreciate It.
This race looks the only possibly next target for Hook Up, something that isn't the case with Royal Kahala and Roseys Hollow who head the market. Both of those mares could be better suited by the Grade 1 over 2m4f for novice mares at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday and the combination of the gap between the races, the additional hassle for Irish horses travelling to Cheltenham and a 5lb penalty at Cheltenham for Roseys Hollow may influence connections.
Gauloise, a stablemate of Hook Up, is also ahead of her in the market but she has to carry a 5lb penalty too.
Perfect Myth is top rated of the 'home' team but Neil King has suggested she wants at least 2m4f now so this race may not suit. Fortunes Melody is a new addition to Harry Fry's team from France and she's shown a good level of ability over hurdles but has shown a tendency to jump out to the right so Cheltenham may not suit unless this is corrected.
Riviere D'etel could be an interesting candidate if lining up in this for Gordon Elliott but the Boodles would be ideal for her if her rating is suitable. She was initially given 133 by the British handicapper but the subsequent victory of Thedevilscoachman could see the adjusted.
With the doubts over her rivals, I think Hook Up should arguably be favourite for this race as it looks the ideal test for her with only two hurdles in the last six furlongs putting less of an emphasis of her need to jump well under pressure, something that's been a flaw of hers, and any of the 8-1 or bigger appeals.
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