Two Cheltenham Festival options on cards for Marie's Rock – PlanetSport

Planet Sport writer

The star of Middleham Park Racing’s National Hunt string won the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park in 2022 and is as short as 5/2 to defend her title following a successful reappearance for the Nicky Henderson-trained mare in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day.

That race gained a new favourite on Tuesday when connections of three-time Festival winner Honeysuckle confirmed the Henry de Bromhead-trained nine-year-old for the two-and-a-half-mile event, while Marie’s Rock’s stablemate Epatante, Harry Fry’s Love Envoi and the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Brandy Love and Echoes In Rain are others in the mix for what is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the week.

However, she also holds an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle later in the week and the ever-changing picture of both possible races has the Marie’s Rock team contemplating a step up to three miles for the Grade One – a race for which she is priced at 6/1.

“I saw her this morning and she is in great form – we are really happy with how she is,” said Middleham Park Racing’s Tom Palin.

“She’s in both races, we kept her in both races and are keeping both options open. We are considering both options pretty much equally and the situation seems to be changing on a daily basis at the moment.
“We don’t actually need to make a decision until March 12 which is declaration day for the Mares’ Hurdle. That is only the day we need to come down on a decision and that is probably when I will make it until something becomes painfully obvious before then.”
In possession of the defending champion, Palin is excited about the prospect of being part of a red-hot renewal of the mares-only contest, but admits Marie’s Rock’s dominant display at Prestbury Park in the Relkeel is making the move to three miles a tempting proposition.
“The Mares’ Hurdle is a mouthwatering race this year,” he continued.
“It has been slated over the past five or six years, but I think it is arguably the race of the meeting – how many Grade Ones has that field won?
“It will be a fascinating race and we won’t be afraid to take the challenge on if that’s what we decide at the time.
“It’s just at the back of my mind how well Marie’s Rock saw out the Relkeel when we knew she was a little bit short.
“At the start of the year I wasn’t really on board with it (three miles), but after that Relkeel we need to see it. She’s bred to get the trip and I don’t think she is a nightmare to settle anymore because Nico (De Boinville) and the team have done a fantastic job.
“She improved a stone if not a little bit more for two and a half and if she does that again moving up, then that puts her bang there in any Grade One over three miles.
“We will be looking at three miles in the not too distant future, if it’s not Cheltenham it will be Aintree, so its very much up in the air and both races at Cheltenham are being considered equally.”

Explaining some of the variables that will make up the decision-making process, ground features highly, as does the well-being of some potential rivals over the extended distance – with many heading to the Festival under a cloud.
He went on: “If it was shaping up to be bottomless on the Thursday for the Stayers’, would it really be sensible experimenting over three miles on really soft or heavy ground. That would also play into Teahupoo’s strengths as well the soft ground.
“But there are also plenty of marginal horses – Flooring Porter, Blazing Khal and Klassical Dream. Those three have all been quoted as being 50-50 to make the Festival.
“So let’s just see how it all pans out. I would love to say it’s definitely this race but the news is changing daily – Honeysuckle was being retired a few days ago and now she’s in the Mares’ Hurdle.
“Lets just see how it all pans out and I would love to be on her side in whatever race we come down on.”


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