It’s a record that should be impervious to criticism or qualification yet Quevega’s achievement in claiming the Mares’ Hurdle here at Cheltenham year after year since her bow in 2009 hasn’t been heralded unquestioningly.
Observers were wondering why she hadn’t been bumped up to have a crack off a World or Champion Hurdle long before she had half of her wins under her belt. The London Times wrote yesterday of a “Grade 1 horse running in a Grade 2 contest”.
Willie Mullins wasn’t asked about such bald observations after his ten-year-old’s latest success at Prestbury Park, but the Carlow-based trainer grazed past that narrative himself when contextualising this remarkable achievement.
“To get a horse here for six years in a row is enough but to come back here in the style she does … we set out the programme that we did for her and it worked,” he remarked. “If you have one good enough to come here you try and mind it for here.”
Mullins has done that.
Quevega has been a whisper in the wind for the majority of the year, season after season. The Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals have long been the limit of her public appearances and she has never been less than excellent value.
In winning yesterday she bettered the record shared for 12 months with the great Golden Miller who won five Gold Cups in these parts back in the 1930s and, though she may not be in that class, her deeds are worthy of celebration.
She won at a canter the first four times but was made dig deep the last two. Gutsy was the word Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh used to describe her as she pulled clear of stablemate Glens Melody in a riveting finish this time.
She has won on soft ground, good ground, good to soft and dead side of good. She has won in races that tipped around at a fair clip and others that dragged their heels. She has beaten 101 other contenders from Ireland, the UK and France.
“She’s just something else and the mare did the talking today,” said Mullins. “She’s got stamina, speed and everything. She’s just class. What more can I say? I’m so pleased for her and she has her own place in history now.
“Her French breeder, who doesn’t speak a word of English, told me that her mother wasn’t good until she was nine. He said this one might keep improving. How right he was.”
Mullins, as the greats usually do, played the modesty card when it came to the credit. So did Walsh who partnered the mare around the two miles and four furlongs for every one of the successes banked by the Hammer & Trowel syndicate.
“It is (special),” said Walsh. “It is more special for the staff and trainer at home.
“I am the lucky guy that gets to ride her here but the work that goes into a horse over six full seasons to get her back to Cheltenham every year spot on — the jockey plays a very small part in that.
“It’s a great performance from the lads that look after her at home. Jack Madden and David Casey and Katie (Walsh) who ride him and the lads who do most of the work, they all play a huge part in it. I get to steer her around here and enjoy the fun and it is a massive honour but it is a massive performance by a big team of people.”
There were ominous portents in the preceding Champion Hurdle when Hurricane Fly, another ten-year old from the Mullins/Walsh camp, was left floundering by six-year old Jezki but those numbers were reversed here.
This time it was the vet leading the upstart — Glens Melody was four years her junior — past the tape in a finish that referenced the drama of last year’s when Quevega got into trouble early on and had to recover from the depths of the field.
Yet again, thousands thought her crown had slipped.
Walsh wasn’t one of them.
“No, last year I did. I was thinking at the top of the hill ‘oh, Jesus, this isn’t going to happen’ but this year that thought never crossed my mind. I knew she was going to have to work but last year she was goosed. This year I never thought she was beat.
“I thought we had a chance anyway.”
What price seven?