After Quevega had won at Punchestown recently trainer, Willie Mullins, came up with a classic when questioned as to the possibility of her taking on Big Buck’s at Cheltenham next year.
Mullins said he had no problem with that, as long as Big Buck’s got into the mares’ hurdle at the festival.
Queue laughter all round and, presumably, an end to the matter. But, in the cold light of day, most have to be disappointed that such a possibility isn’t at least being entertained.
In lots of ways you have to admire Mullins for immediately putting to bed any notion that the brilliant mare will attempt to lower the colours of a horse which is literally unbeatable.
If the press had even got a sniff that he would at least consider changing the habits of a lifetime and aiming Quevega at the World Hurdle, rather than the mares’ hurdle, then he would be blue in the face for much of next season answering questions.
We saw it this year with David Pipe’s Grands Crus. Once he had opened his mouth to indicate that the Gold Cup was being considered, as well as the RSA Chase, the papers were full of the story for weeks leading into Cheltenham.
As it turned out connections finally opted for the RSA and the unfortunate horse wasn’t even able to hold his own in novice company.
But that said I think it’s a shame Quevega isn’t going to be allowed to truly reveal just how good she really is by taking on the best stayer in the business. All the evidence is that Quevega is, at worst, the second best stayer in training right now over hurdles. Her stunning five and a half lengths defeat of Voler La Vedette at Punchestown told us so much, but not quite enough. Voler La Vedette had previously made a real race of it when runner-up behind Big Buck’s at Cheltenham.
Mullins and Ruby Walsh didn’t get to the top of their respective professions by accident and the fact both appear to be totally opposed to Quevega ever taking on Big Buck’s has to be respected.
But we know that she is a far better mare than Voler La Vedette and that one didn’t do at all badly when trying to topple the juggernaut.
The plan right now is for Quevega to go to back to Cheltenham to try and win the mares’ hurdle for a fifth time.
But the world and its mother know if she arrives in her usual form will achieve that standing on her proverbial head.
But aside from winning five times at the festival, admirable and all as that undoubtedly is, and returning to the winner’s enclosure for what will essentially be a somewhat hollow triumph, what will it prove?
All it will do is to confirm one more time that she is top-class and who has once again proven far too good for much inferior opposition.
I wonder if the mares’ hurdle was on the agenda back in the ‘80’s would that have been the preferred option for the great Dawn Run?
Certainly, two miles over flights was never her cup of tea and the extra four furlongs of the mares’ hurdle would have been far more suitable.
As a relatively young horse, she was only six, Dawn Run really had nothing else to aim at in 1984 but the Champion Hurdle and ended up winning it.
And then two years later, of course, she became the only horse to complete the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double.
In doing so she achieved racing immortality, but would it have happened had that mares’ hurdle been available to her? I think we can be virtually certain she would have gone over fences anyway, but one cannot be entirely sure.
As long as Quevega is confined to the same race at Cheltenham, one of the easiest assignments of the four days, we will never get to decide exactly how good she actually is.
But what have connections got to lose by letting her take on the very best, Big Buck’s, just once?
Besides the obvious answer, the prize money which comes with the mares’ hurdle, the simple answer has to be nothing.
Camelot, today, and Maybe, tomorrow, are going to go off very short-priced Ballydoyle favourites for the Guineas at Newmarket.
Do not have the slightest doubt about it, these two are strongly fancied to deliver and have been heavily backed to do so.
Some of the off-course firms have fielded some very decent wagers indeed and there is no doubt, and this is coming from a real sceptic, that one or two of them have heavy liabilities.
Camelot is unbeaten in two races and Maybe in five and have clearly been giving every satisfaction in their homework for a number of weeks now. Mind you the real possibility of soft ground was hardly pencilled in. Anyway it is going to be fascinating watching how they get on, so let’s just sit back and enjoy the view!
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