Friday, March 2, 2012

The Wonder Mare
By Stephen Dwyer

You can’t but admire The Hammer & Trowel Syndicate. Comprising of a bricklayer, Sean Deane and Ger O'Brien, a carpenter, the syndicate have a history of acquiring top class racing mares. The Hammer & Trowel pairing was set up at a Christmas party in 2006 and their three mares, J’y Vole. Thousand Stars and Quevega are a testimony to shrewdness and more than a little good fortune. Among this trio however it is Quevega who burns brightest. She is unquestionably the best mare in Ireland, England and perhaps Europe. Seeking a fourth win in the David Nicholson mares hurdle at Cheltenham in two weeks’ time, she is for many the safest bet of the entire festival.

Quevega is thoroughly French. She was bred by Pierre Rives near Allier in central France in 2004 from a six-time winning mare Vega IV and the precocious sire Robin Des Champs. She was quickly put into training with Bertrand de Watrigant who commended the soundness of the young filly; “She was kind and gentle and you could do anything you wanted with her. Truly, very easy and adorable with a terrific turn of foot”.

Sent to the summer sales as a three year old, Quevega was unsold in the ring but would win her next three starts before being spotted by bloodstock agent Pierre Boulard. At the time, Boulard was seeking a new mare for the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate. A couple of weeks later, Quevega arrived at Willie Mullin’s yard and has since progressed to become one of the leading stars of Closutton. She quickly won her first two hurdle races by a combination of 21 lengths and also ran in France at Auteuil, where she finished third in the Group 1 Prix Alain du Breil, just two lengths behind Hurricane Fly.

At Cheltenham in 2008, Quevega won the first of her three Mares hurdle races when easily quickening away from the field. It was 14 lengths back to the second mare, not bad for a race worth £100,000. She was the easiest winner of the entire Cheltenham festival. After finishing third in the Irish Champion Hurdle, Quevega returned to Auteuil for the Group 2 Prix la Barka but sustained a suspensory ligament that almost finished her career. Carefully rested, she would not race again for several months but took the renewal of the 2009 Mares race in Cheltenham in great style. By the age of seven, Quevega was a dual Cheltenham Festival winner and successful in nine of her 16 races.

After successfully landing the hat-trick in the Mares hurdle at Cheltenham last year, Quevega stepped up to 3 miles when winning the Grade 1 World Series Hurdle at Punchestown. That was in early May and she has not been seen on a racecourse since. Despite the long absence, trainer Willie Mullins has reported the eight year old to be in peak condition ahead of another run in the David Nicholson race. Conditions appears tailor-made for the wonder mare who to date has won over €500,000 in prize money for her connections. 

Although she is as short as 4/7 to win her fourth Mares Hurdle, opposition for Quevega appears thin on the ground. The main antagonist in the race, Unaccompanied, is only to run if Quevega does not. The only real negative is the face that the mares race is run on the opening day of the Festival when the ground regularly rides at its deadest for the week. This should not matter too much for Quevega and her class should see her through. Another big win at Cheltenham awaits The Hammer & Trowel Syndicate, you feel they are merely counting down the days.

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