Bobby Zen

Nicky Henderson and Henry de Bromhead have spoken out against the rumoured changes to the National Hunt programme in Britain that would see Grade 1 winners not being qualified to run in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. 

Dual Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle signed off on her glittering career for de Bromhead by notching a 13th Grade 1 and a second Mares’ Hurdle success in what many people describe as one of the greatest moments in Cheltenham Festival history back in 2023. 

Henderson has trained a galaxy of star mares himself and took the Champion Hurdle in 2020 with Epatante as well as scooping the Mares’ Hurdle in 2022 with Marie’s Rock. 

Both trainers agree that the potential tweaks-that would see any Grade 1 winner within the past 13 months of the meeting being denied a run in the Mares’ Hurdle-has the potential to undo years of progress within the sector.

Speaking on Monday afternoon, Henderson said, “Peter Molony [of Rathmore Stud] was the first person to alert me to these potential changes last Friday and I thought to myself, ‘Christ, what’s going on?’ I made a few calls over the weekend and, while nobody had been aware of it, they were pretty horrified by the thoughts of what might be coming. I haven’t met anybody who thinks this is a good idea.”

He added, “A hell of a lot of work has been done by the TBA and the ITBA to promote National Hunt fillies and it has worked. The allowance was the first big step forward but then the introduction of these mares’ races has helped enormously. You’ve got breeders’ premiums on top of all of that so there is such an incentive to put a National Hunt filly in training right now. It’s marvellous.”

De Bromhead explained the healthy demand for owners wanting to get involved in National Hunt fillies, largely down to the host of opportunities that have been put in place for such horses. To limit such opportunities would be a step in the wrong direction, according to the trainer. 

He explained, “The mares need championship races. Look what it has done for the whole mare population. It’s incredible. Since we have started to give these National Hunt mares such opportunities, the interest has soared. 

“But they need a championship race and you want the best mares having the opportunity to take each other on. If someone is happy to go and try their hand in one of the other Grade 1 races, like the Champion Hurdle, that’s great. But they have to have the opportunity to take each other on, like Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux did in their first encounter in the 2020 Mares’ Hurdle. That was an incredible race. As was Honeysuckle’s swansong in the race a couple of years ago. We need a championship race for the mares and I can’t understand why anyone would go making changes to the race.”

As it stands, the top four mares in the ante-post market for next year’s Mares’ Hurdle-last year’s runaway winner Lossiemouth, Brighterdaysahead, Jade De Grugy and Kargese–would not be qualified to run in the 2025 edition of the race.

As well as weakening the Mares’ Hurdle, Henderson thinks that the changes being discussed by Cheltenham and the Jockey Club have the potential to weaken the top-flight races in the build-up to the Festival.

He explained, “There are two points I’d like to make as to why this simply cannot happen. We need to get as many runners as we possibly can in the Grade 1 races but, if you put a restriction on Grade 1-winning mares running in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, they won’t be running in a Grade 1 race before Cheltenham. Straight away, you weaken races like the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle etc etc. It’s not very fair at all.”

Henderson added, “The second point is that you simply cannot put a restriction on a Grade 1 race. It’s rather like saying no filly can run in the Oaks if they have won a Group 1 previously. So, all previous Group 1 winners, you’ve got to run in the Derby. It doesn’t make any sense.”

It is understood that a number of potential Cheltenham Festival tweaks, including that of the Mares’ Hurdle, were up for discussion at board level on Monday afternoon. 

Providing a comment to The Irish Field’s Mark Boylan on Saturday, a Jockey Club spokesperson said, “It has been in the public domain for some time that we are looking at a wide number of aspects of the Cheltenham Festival following this year’s fixture. 

“Some possible tweaks to the race programme form one element of what is being considered, and we’re currently seeking the views of a variety of stakeholders as we weigh up our options. “We have a set process for how these discussions are conducted and our objective will always be to listen to the wide variety of views on offer and make a decision which is in the best overall interests of the Festival and the sport of jump racing. We should stress that we are only discussing some initial options at present and remain some way from making any final decisions.”

While Henderson agrees that changes are required to heighten competitiveness at the flagship jumps meeting, he says altering the Mares’ Hurdle would be “wrong”.

He concluded, “I believe that there is a meeting taking place today to discuss these measures. The Mares’ Hurdle is not the only subject on the agenda. It’s quite right that they review the programme every year. That is sound judgement. But sometimes I think they tweak things for the wrong reasons. 

“Everybody has got their views but I don’t think this is a very good idea. It’s basically them saying, ‘Lossiemouth, you cannot run in the Mares’ Hurdle next year.’ Such a decision would have a knock-on effect on the entire programme and it’s wrong.”

 

The post Henderson And De Bromhead Blast Potential Changes To Mares’ Hurdle At Cheltenham appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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