There has been a lot of speculation surrounding a new race appearing at the Cheltenham Festival. Finally, the BHA broke the news that there will be one. The festival will now include a Mares Chase, which will be of Grade Two level and will come into the festival in 2021. That means there won’t be one at the next festival.
The choice of race may come as a surprise to some. It was rumoured that they were looking to add a 2m4f hurdle race to give horses another option in between the Champion Hurdle and Stayers Hurdle. However, it is the mares that get their race. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been keeping up to date with the mares program. This is seen as the final piece in that jigsaw, and something that should spark a bit of additional life into the national hunt breeding program.
Recently we have seen additional races created for mares with more prize money being added to existing races. This is all designed to keep mares in training for longer before going to the breeding barn. And of course to try and get national hunt mares as opposed to using flat mares.
This new festival race will give them something to aim for as an end of season target. And it’s prestige will be encouraging for owners and breeders. In a few years, after this race has established itself, hopefully, we will see the value of mares rise. That also applies to foals born to Cheltenham Festival winners.
Which Race Will Go?
One important aspect of the addition of the mares chase is that it will replace one of the existing races. Speculation has already started around which race it will be. It is disappointing that the BHA has not already announced this, as it will only attract rumours and speculation for the next few weeks.
The favourites to be axed according to the bookmakers are one of the two novice races. The Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase is a possibility as some believe it has taken runners away from the JLT and RSA graded events. This is a hugely competitive handicap. Those that qualify are not too far off the standard required to run in either the JLT or RSA. So options would still be open to those horses.
The other race potentially going is the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle. This is a race for four-year-olds who are not quite good enough to get into the Triumph Hurdle. The concern with removing this race would be that these horses do not have anywhere else to go. However, at just four years old, there will be many more festivals for them to appear in.
A decision is expected in the coming weeks although no timeline has been set.