Mares Chase Added to Cheltenham Festival from 2021
The Cheltenham Festival will have a new race from 2021. A new Grade Two Mares Chase will be introduced to the festival to enhance the current mares program, something that has seen extensive work over the past few months and they now have a feature race to aim at when we get around to the festival. This change will not be brought in to the festival this coming season, we have to wait another 18 months to see the race finally take shape.
The big news attached to this was that this race will not be an extra race at the meeting, but instead it will replace one of the current races to keep the number to 28, seven races per day. Which race is going to be axed is unknown at the moment, which will no doubt lead to speculation over the coming weeks and months from both those inside racing and general fans of the sport. I’m not sure I agree with the BHA for doing it this way, what they should have done is announce the two things together, giving us the new race followed by a release to tell us which race was getting axed to make way.
If you believe the speculation then it will be one of the novice handicaps that will be going to make room for the Mares Chase, with the Close Brothers Novice Handicap and the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle the favourites to go with the bookmakers.
While the Fred Winter does give lesser horses the chance to run at the festival, it could be argued that the Close Brothers is so tightly handicapped that it is almost a graded race in its own right, with usually just a couple of pounds separating the top and bottom weights of the race. With four graded novice chase races already at the festival, the horses that have run in here would have other targets they could run in, which lends more weight to this being the race they cut. If it was the Fred Winter, those horses would only have the Triumph to go to, but there is a noticeable difference in class in this race, whereas there isn’t too big a gap between the Close Brothers and the JLT for example.
We have seen cries for additional Cheltenham Festival races over the past few seasons and perhaps the biggest of them all is for a 2m4f hurdle race for those who don’t have the pace to run in the Champion Hurdle, and those who don’t have the staying power needed for the Stayers Hurdle. However, it should come as no surprise to racing fans that it is a Mares Chase we will be seeing.
We have seen a lot of investment in the mares program over the past few years with both new races added and increases to prize money, all in an attempt to get more mares into racing, and for them to stay in there as opposed to heading to the breeding barn. Now all of those mares have an ultimate goal to aim for with this race at the festival for those who run over fences and the Mares Hurdle for those that remain over the smaller obstacles.
While it may take a little while to get going, and the first few may be a little understrength either in terms of numbers or quality, in the long term this is likely to make up into a nice race. There will be many owners and breeders that will have their eye on this, knowing that a Cheltenham Festival win would really boost a mares value when she went for breeding after her racing career.
It is for this reason that I think we will eventually see this race turn into something good, but for now we may have to suffer with two or three average renewals to kick things off.