No rush to commit to Cheltenham target with Marie’s Rock

Nicky Henderson is likely to make a late call on whether Marie’s Rock runs in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle or steps up in trip for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Winner of the Mares’ Hurdle last season, she beat the boys on her only outing to date this term in the Relkeel, but she has yet to run over three miles.

“Marie’s Rock is in very, very good form. There is a question with Marie’s Rock and it is definitely possible she can move up and run in the Stayers’ Hurdle,” said Henderson.

“Tom Palin (of owners Middleham Park) and I have discussed it and no doubt we will discuss a lot more. It certainly won’t be a decision we’ll make in the near future and we’ll just have to wait and see.

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“I know she hasn’t run over three miles, but she won very well in the Relkeel on New Year’s Day. She’s stayed well both times she has won at Cheltenham, she flies up the hill and I thought she was very impressive on New Year’s Day. She’s fit, fresh and well and all things are ready to go and we will have to consider.

“The horse who won yesterday (Blazing Khal), I don’t know the horse at all to be honest with you and there are a few around at the moment – Gordon’s horse (Teahupoo), he looks the best I’ve seen. You have got to always respect old Paisley Park. They are not bad but there is no standout.

“Now in the Mares’ you are going to have Epatante, you are going to have Honeysuckle, you might even have Theatre Glory. So there is a bit to be said for at least considering the Stayers’, but we can sit on that and the ground might have a good bit to do with it.”

Theatre Glory is also trained by Henderson and was very impressive at Warwick on Saturday.

Theatre Glory has improved markedly with each outing this term
Theatre Glory has improved markedly with each outing this term (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “Theatre Glory would want really good ground. She has to be supplemented as does Epatante, but you can take it they are intended runners.

“I’ve said from the beginning when it appeared Epatante hadn’t been entered, she should be treated as a runner for betting purposes because it’s 50-50 whether she goes Champion Hurdle or Mares’. Just because she’s not in the race, doesn’t mean she won’t run. She can be in the race and so could Theatre Glory.”

Epatante’s options are another crack at the Champion Hurdle which she won in 2020 or to take on her own sex.

“Epatante has run once over two and a half miles at Aintree and she stayed very well, she won very easily that day,” said Henderson.

Nicky Henderson and Epatante on Monday morning
Nicky Henderson and Epatante on Monday morning (David Davies/PA)

“It was great to see her win like that at Doncaster the other day, it was very impressive. I know she beat nothing but at least she has shown what Constitution Hill is beating.

“What she showed the other day is how good Constitution Hill is, given he keeps slamming her and then she can come out and beat her own playmates as easily as that. I thought she was superb the other day and she jumped excellently.”

Should she run in the Mares’ Hurdle she will face Honeysuckle, who has beaten her in the Champion the last two seasons.

“I can see their point to be fair. Both her runs this year would suggest she is just not quite where she was last year and I think an extra half a mile is going to help her, so I think it is the sensible thing to do,” Henderson said of the decision to keep Honeysuckle to her own sex.

“Having got a couple of mares of our own, I think I would have preferred her in the Champion Hurdle, but she’s been great and really great for the game.

“Most people would like to see her go out in a blaze of glory winning the Mares’. I’m afraid I’m probably one of the only people who wouldn’t find that so popular.”

Henderson is still leaning towards running Luccia in the Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle despite her impressive display at Exeter on Sunday.

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She holds an entry in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, for which she would get a 7lb mares’ allowance, but Henderson would need convincing to roll the dice.

The fact she is around 10-1 for the Supreme and 7-4 favourite for the Mares’ Novices’ is also weighing on Henderson’s mind.

“Luccia ought to go for the Mares’. She was impressive yesterday. Nico (de Boinville) was tempted by the Supreme but the betting tells you what you’ve got to do, surely?” said Henderson.

“You don’t have to decide yet. We did put her in it, which I thought was ambitious at the time anyway. I would be in favour of sticking to the Mares’ I must admit.

“Paul (Sandy, owner) and I will have a chat nearer the time and if there was a forfeit stage tomorrow we’d leave her in, but I can’t believe you’d throw away the Mares’. I’m not saying she will win that, but at least you know you’ve a very good chance of having a winner.

“I do like having the winner of the Supreme because it sets you up for the rest of the week, but we haven’t anything else so we’ll see. I’ll have a look but I can’t believe it’s the right thing to do.

“In the years of Altior and Shishkin, we were heading to the Supreme with confidence. I couldn’t come out and say we thought we’d win, but I remember in Min’s year all we heard was Min, Min Min and I just thought ‘good luck because you won’t beat Altior’. I couldn’t say that about Luccia.”

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