It has been quite the week for those in charge of the Cheltenham Festival for 2021. We always knew that a mare’s chase was going to be introduced to the festivities but how it would fit in was always in question.
Well, now we know. The 2m4f Listed novice handicap chase is to be scrapped and that’s just one of the changes made this week. Initially, it looked like the Kim Muir, Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle, National Hunt Chase, and Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle could be in the firing line.
But it was the novice handicap, first run in 2005, that was chosen. However, the good news is that it will now be staged at Sandown on the Saturday before the festival. The assumption that it would be a straight swap was also nipped in the bud. The novice handicap was traditionally run on day one of the festival but the new Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase is to be run on Gold Cup day.
The spot on the opening day of the festival will now be filled by the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. The Grand Annual has also been diverted to Wednesday.
Any major changes to the Cheltenham Festival were also going to attract attention. Thankfully quite a lot of trainers are in favour of the alterations. Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins is very supportive of the new race addition.
Speaking to the Racing post he said: “I was reading the reasons for the change and I thought they all added up.
“They made the decision because novices were well looked after and I’m delighted to see that it has moved to Sandown three days beforehand.
“They have enhanced the mares’ programme in Ireland and England for nearly ten years now and the mares’ programme is growing all the time.
“It’s a huge benefit to the industry.”
Trainer Nicky Henderson was equally as positive. He said: “The novice handicap is a bizarre race in that there’s usually not much more than a 5lb weight range.
“From December to March you have to be very mindful of your mark. If you were under 140 you probably won’t get in, if you’re much better than that you aren’t getting in.
“Being at Sandown will probably mean there’s a wider margin but everyone wants to go to Cheltenham, we all know that.
“I see the logic because it’s a handicap that isn’t really a handicap.”
While others were lamenting the removal of the novice handicap, trainer Paul Nicholls was more than pleased with the introduction of the Mare’s Chase.
“I fully support the introduction of the mares’ chase, and the positive impact it will have on the racing industry,” he said.
“There will certainly be plenty of good mares in both Britain and Ireland to contest it and I hope to have a good candidate in Laurina.
“It looks like the obvious race for her.”
Mare’s Chase 2021 Contenders
It may have only been a day since the announcement of the changes but quite a few of the great chasers are already being pointed at the race. Paul Nicholls believes Laurina is a big challenger while Willie Mullins could enter Salsaretta, Cabaret Queen and Benie Des Dieux.
In fact, it is Salaretta that currently leads the ante-post betting markets. She is currently leading the field on odds of 6/1 with Put The Kettle On close behind on 8/1.
Interestingly, Elfile is as short as 8/1 for the new Mare’s Chase despite being at odds of 25/1 for the Mare’s Hurdle. Benie Des Dieux, Happy Diva and Elimay are all around 10/1 ante-post.
Whatever happens, when you tune into the Festival on Friday March 18th 2021 you will be watching history in the making as the first-ever Mare’s Chase gets underway.