16:00 Cheltenham: Sparrow value to foil Quevega six-timer
Willie Mullins’ Quevega bids for an unprecedented sixth consecutive victory in the Mares’ Hurdle, and sets a high standard for her rivals to aim at. She has made her seasonal debut in each subsequent year at the Festival so the lack of a run is not a concern.
Undoubtedly a class act who has a good turn of foot, Quevega is not getting any younger at the age of 10 and her last two victories in the contest have not been by wide margins. She beat Sirene D’Ainay by just 1 1/2 lengths last year, despite being officially rated 37lb superior to the French raider.
This race seems a far stronger renewal with a host of potential improvers and she will have to be at her very best to retain her crown.
John Quinn’s Cockney Sparrow has the services of AP McCoy in the saddle and looks a massive player if getting the 2m 4f trip. The five-year-old is officially rated 20lb inferior to Quevega on 147, but is progressive and open to further improvement. She put up a smart performance for a novice when readily winning a 22-runner handicap hurdle at Aintree last season off a mark of 130.
After winning on her seasonal reappearance, she put in a cracking effort when runner-up to My Tent Or Yours in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle over 2m. Beaten there by three lengths without ever having the pace to challenge the winner, she shapes as if she will stay, and the ground has come in her favour.
Cailin Annamh has won five of her seven starts over hurdles and Jessica Harrington’s mare should not be underestimated. Her latest win came in a Grade 3 contest at Punchestown where she coasted home to beat Little King Robin by five lengths, and prior to that she had showed good battling qualities to beat Jennies Jewel at Gowran Park.
She needs to step up again on bare form to trouble the likes of Quevega and Cockney Sparrow, but that not impossible given her progressive profile. Cailin Annamh goes on all ground and the trip is also not a problem.
Harry Fry’s Highland Retreat is a really likeable sort who is on a serious upward curve. The seven-year-old has won all three of her starts this season and has stamina in abundance.
She jumped brilliantly when scoring last time out in a Grade 2 contest at Ascot, where she also showed an ultra-game attitude to keep finding more when pressed to beat Carole’s Spirit by two lengths. The drop back to 2m 4f is a slight concern, but Highland Retreat is likely to set a strong gallop from the front and could prove hard to pass if given an easy lead.