Marie’s Rock booked her return to the Cheltenham Festival in landing the SBK Warfield Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster for Nicky Henderson.
The nine-year-old was the 6-4 favourite for the extended three-mile contest, a five-runner affair saved from Ascot that included Henderson-trained stablemates Tweed Skirt and Theatre Glory alongside Jamie Snowden’s You Wear It Well.
Marie’s Rock brought Grade One form to the table, however, and was last seen finishing second to Bob Olinger in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
This Grade Two was a step up in trip and under James Bowen she did not look the easiest of rides, lighting up once the red hood was removed but settling to the task when having to fend off You Wear It Well in the final stages of the race.
An eventual length-and-a-half-winner, Betfair cut Marie’s Rock from 20-1 to 12-1 to regain the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle crown she won in 2022, with Lossiemouth at the head of the market after her highly impressive Cheltenham victory on Saturday.
“We were delighted she was able to get her head back in front there, we don’t necessarily see her as an out-and-out three-miler and that’s probably not her championship distance,” said Tom Palin of syndicate owners Middleham Park Racing.
“We will keep her to the mares’ races, but she’s not ineffective at these sorts of distances and against the opposition today she was able to take advantage of that in what looked a good opportunity to get her head back in front.
“She has been running some very creditable races in defeat, she’s a tough, game mare. She carries her head a bit awkwardly, a bit in the ‘Marie’s Rock style’ but James said when You Wear It Well came to her she wasn’t going to lay down and she toughed it out.
“It takes a very good one to go past her, I thought the writing was on the wall with that performance behind Bob Olinger – he looked resurgent, the Bob Olinger of old, and I felt we lost nothing in defeat to him.
“I was delighted that she was able to confirm her place at the Cheltenham Festival, obviously life has got a little bit harder in the last 24 hours with Lossiemouth looking like the proverbial second coming!
“We’ve booked our ticket for the mares’ race anyway and we’ll head down that route.”