Mighty mares who lit up Cheltenham: what happened next?
Tom Peacock looks into the breeding careers of the Festival's great ladies
Rarely do foals command more attention than a little fellow with a small white star on his forehead who arrived into the world at the start of last month.
As if it was not enough to be a son of the omnipotent Galileo, his mother was no less a figure than Annie Power, who arrived at Coolmore after becoming the first mare to win the Champion Hurdle in 22 years.
At this stage with the mightiest of genes, the world is the youngster’s oyster. While it seems unlikely that he could one day win a Guineas or a Derby, perhaps a Melbourne Cup or a Cheltenham blue riband could be within range along with a yellow jersey in the Tour de France and presidency of the Oxford Union.
Victories for mares at the Festival were quite a rarity prior to the recent introduction of the two confined events, let alone for them to produce something themselves. Indeed two of the very best, Dawn Run and Mysilv, died before making it to the paddocks. However, not all have been lost without trace.
The 1994 Champion Hurdle winner was a product of generations spawned by the Price family at Eaton Hall Farm in Herefordshire. The dynasty had been started improbably by Tom Price, grandfather of Flakey Dove's trainer Richard, who bought an old point-to-pointer called Cottage Lass, who was not even in the General Stud Book, just after World War II and decided to breed from her. She sprung many fine performers, usually with the suffix Dove, and Flakey was the best, winning 11 times in all and striking a famous blow for the sport’s grassroots in beating the likes of Oh So Risky, Large Action and Granville Again.
She had a successful broodmare career too with a handful of winners, the best of which being the Venetia Williams-trained chaser Just Smudge. Although Flakey Dove died in 2016, her youngest racing son Bertie Lugg was still in action at the start of this season.
Nothing sets the scene to a Festival like an Irish winner of the Supreme, let alone a banker material in the colours of JP McManus. So it proved in 2002 as Like-A-Butterfly, defending a seven-race unbeaten record and backed into 7-4, loomed alongside Westender at the third-last under a motionless Charlie Swan.
Luck was on her supporters’ side due to the crashing fall of Adamant Approach, but she found extra reserves up the hill to oblige by a neck. It was to be the mare’s zenith at Cheltenham, although she went on to take an Irish Champion Hurdle and a Powers Gold Cup over fences. McManus and wife Noreen chose to breed from her and the signs were auspicious when first foal Speckled Wood won a couple of novice hurdles for Christy Roche but she rather petered out later on. Like-A-Butterfly herself died in 2013 with four foals on the ground.
As much as some of her talent can permeate through, Quevega’s offspring will be burdened with the unrealistic expectations of Jessica Ennis-Hill’s children at their first sports day. However promising they look, they’re simply not going to win six times in a row at a sporting championship.
Quevega, who is from AQPS origins was retired in the season of her final Mares’ Hurdle success in 2014 and resides at the Irish National Stud. She has three foals on the ground and her first, a Beat Hollow filly, was sold for €50,000 to Keatingstown Bloodstock at the Tattersalls Ireland November NH Sale 2016. She also has a two-year-old Walk In The Park colt and a yearling filly by the same sire.
There could be some pleasant symmetry should Meticulous, the fifth foal of Refinement, take his chance in this year's Weatherbys Champion Bumper. It is a race his mother participated in no less than twice, losing her unbeaten record when second to Total Enjoyment in 2004, and finishing fifth under Kieren Fallon 12 months later.
During an admirable career, Michael Tabor’s Oscar homebred was also fourth in the Ballymore and second in the inaugural running of the Mares’ Hurdle shortly before she bowed out.
Refinement’s earlier foals had a lukewarm reception at the sales but son West Coast Time has scored twice for Joseph O’Brien and Fame And Glory gelding Meticulous looks a good deal better given he was second to hot property Envoi Allen on his latest start in a Grade 2. She’s had three further foals by Coolmore sires, the latest a son of Walk In The Park in 2017.
It does not bear thinking about how an ever-more outraged modern racing congregation might have taken the result of the 1985 Stayers’ Hurdle. Ricky Pusey’s mount Rose Ravine leaned across the track after the final flight and almost pushed Crimson Embers into the rail before leading the way up the run-in. Extraordinarily, given that both horses were trained by Fulke Walwyn and owned by Sally Smart, there was no objection.
It would have been Crimson Embers’ second win in the race, and he went on to strike again the following year, while Rose Ravine’s relationship with Cheltenham continued by filial association. Her son Cardinal Red nearly completed an unprecedented double by finishing second in what is now the Ballymore. Siblings Frosty Canyon (fourth in an RSA), Ringaroses and Alvino also appeared at the Festival and descendants of the family continue to run today.
Francois Doumen’s visits to Cheltenham are social nowadays, but his reputation as an outstanding dual-purpose trainer was burnished long before winning the 2000 Triumph Hurdle. Snow Drop was a daughter of Double Bed, whose British runners operated at a smart strike-rate, and punters acknowledged Doumen’s prowess by sending her off the 7-1 market leader in a 28-runner field. The favourite obliged by two lengths and ran just once more, when fourth at Auteuil a few weeks later.
Snow Drop was exported to Ireland in 2004 but sadly died two years later, leaving only four bulbs to take root. Thankfully her first offspring, the Trempolino mare Lina Drop, was about as good as her mother in France, winning the Grade 1 Prix Alain du Breuil and splitting the top-class Or Noir de Somoza and Kasbah Bliss in the French equivalent of the Triumph.
A useful answer to a racing pub quiz, Tourist Attraction will best be known for providing a certain Willie Mullins with his first Festival winner some 24 years ago in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. The meeting’s modern-day titan did not have quite the following as a trainer back then, given the daughter of Pollerton was a 25-1 shot as Mark Dwyer galvanised her past the rather better-fancied Edward O’Grady representative Ventana Canyon.
Retired after one more run, she was retained by breeder Michael O’Keeffe as she developed into a prolific producer. Undoubtedly Tourist Attraction’s best son has been Pete The Feat, the equine Methuselah who has become a poster boy for veterans’ chases. It runs in the family as the mare was pictured recently, aged an impressive 30, seeing out her years at the O’Keeffe family farm near Cashel.
Voler La Vedette
Not quite a Festival winner but deserving of a position, given that she came as close as any to toppling Big Buck’s from his Stayers’ Hurdle throne in 2012. A consistent Graded winner throughout her time with Colm Murphy, the King’s Theatre half-sister to 'Whitbread' winner Hennessy was unconsidered at 20-1 at Cheltenham yet travelled smoothly under Andrew Lynch.
The jockey switched to the stands at the final flight, in a bid to catch the relentless Big Buck’s unawares, but the old master’s stamina won out up the final hill. Voler La Vedette, who was also third to Quevega in the Mares' Hurdle two years earlier, has had four foals to date with a reasonable return from the sales.
One, the Robin Des Champs gelding Swordsmith, was bought by Gordon Elliott for €95,000 in 2017 but debuted modestly on one start in an Irish point for Eddie Hales last year.
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