Who doesn’t love a flying grey mare. Lossiemouth put up a sterling performance to win the Unibet Hurdle at Cheltenham last weekend. In fact, to be precise, it was a 71,187 Pounds Sterling performance (or a 83,289 Euro performance, depending on which side of the Irish sea you’re standing).
Inevitably, as her antepost odds for the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham tumbled, some commentators expressed disappointment that Lossiemouth is unlikely to take on Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle. After all, they opined, if Cheltenham is jump racing’s version of the Olympics, shouldn’t the best take on the best?
It’s a reasonable position to take, but if Lossiemouth were mine, I wouldn’t run her in the Champion Hurdle either – or at least, not as her first option. Instead, all attention would be focused on the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso which, with a total prize fund of £120,000, is worth exactly the same as the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham. But, and here’s the thing, there’s an additional bonus of £100,000 if the winner can go on to win any race at the 2024 Cheltenham Festival.
If Lossiemouth could pull off the Morebattle / Mare’s Hurdle double (as The Shunter did in 2021, but by winning the Plate Handicap Chase instead of the mares’ race) she’d collect a total of £229,252 or €268,225 – which is two and a half times more than she’d earn for finishing second to Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle. In fact, it’s only a pocketful of change less than she’d earn for winning the Champion Hurdle itself.
Granted, we’re talking about one of JP McManus’s pockets – not my own, which contain exactly €56, 60 cents, being the sum leftover from last year’s Annual Members’ trip to the Dublin Racing Festival, and with which I plan to take on the Leopardstown bookies again this Saturday and Sunday. I can’t tell you what’s going to win yet, but that’s because I’ve only looked at the runners for Musselburgh where Saturday’s feature is the £100,000 Edinburgh National, for which the selection is Brandy McQueen – who has been interestingly placed by Harriet Graham, as a first-season novice, to qualify for a large pot.
The innovative placing of horses plays a vital part of the appeal of jump racing and former trainer David Elsworth was correct to point out, recently, that the top British trainers are not aiding the sport by keeping their best horses to weight-for-age races only. Thirty years ago, Elsworth saddled the favourite for the Champion Hurdle, Oh So Risky, for his prep-race in a handicap hurdle. It turned out that the first three home in that handicap race (including Flakey Dove and Large Action) went on to fill the first three places in the Champion Hurdle. Now that’s how to ignite passion within racing’s audience!
Understandably, every owner and trainer craves the elixir that’s derived from a winner at Cheltenham. But how much better would it be, to win have a Cheltenham winner plus a sterling £100k bonus for winning the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle too? Entries close for the Morebattle on 13th February.