As the mares rolled up the finishing straight, bathed in the twilight rays of Kelso’s first fixture of the season, a joyous crowd of cheering faces glowed amber.
Having waited eighteen months for an opportunity to attend the races, the spectators weren’t for leaving early – which is a good job because a mid-programme hiccup meant that the Racing TV Mares National Hunt Flat Race was delayed by more than 20 minutes, by when the brightest parts of the track were those illuminated by the headlights of the ambulance.
There has been a historical bias, in the jump’s horse population, towards geldings. Mares were typically packed quickly off to stud – which not only meant that their ability wasn’t being tested before entering the breeding pool, but that the total number of horses available to enter races was depleted by almost half. The development of the jumps programme for mares is one of the major success stories of the industry in recent years. Racing enthusiasts have quickly taken the top mares to their hearts including Quevega, Annie Power and Lady Buttons, not to mention the reigning Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle.
Kelso racegoers will have a soft spot for Clondaw Caitlin, the Ruth Jefferson trained winner of the Grade 2 Premier Novices Hurdle in 2020, who happens to be the blog’s selection at Perth next Wednesday. She’ll be bidding to eclipse Pammi, another popular northern mare entered in the same race, who has already won three times at Perth and been placed second twice this Summer.
The connections of the mares which fought out Wednesday’s finish (including third placed Fethard Glory who is owned by Kelso’s own syndicate of Annual Members) will be mapping out their seasons and we’ve planned a special treat just for them: a new series of novice hurdle races for mares culminating in a £50,000 final to be staged over 2 miles and 2 furlongs at Kelso on Saturday 26th March.
Finding a suitable name for the new race hasn’t been as easy as you might think. Titles such as the ‘Top Mares Novice Hurdle’ or the ‘Champion Mares Novice Hurdle’ were ruled out as being too similar to existing graded events. And the idea of naming the race after a prominent Scottish historical female figure quickly divided opinion.
But over in Galashiels, one of the panels in the Great Tapestry of Scotland depicts the herring girls who migrated, according to the seasons, up and down the east coast as they served the fleets of fishing boats following the herring. While the men worked the trawlers, the girls gutted the fish before preserving them in salt and placing them in barrels. The work was tough and involved long hours, often in poor weather – not unlike the Winter jumps season. And like jump racing, there was great camaraderie too, with teams of girls often travelling together for months at a time.
In some towns, like Eyemouth which lies on the coast not far from Kelso, the residents still celebrate the era by appointing a Herring Queen to oversee annual festivities. That provided the spark for our newest race title: The Herring Queen Mares Novice Hurdle Final. Those who waited for the last rays of light to fade at Kelso on Wednesday may believe they’ve already found the first clue to naming the winner.