20 Mar

Philip Sale | Sunday March 20 2022, 7:40pm | Racing Comment

At the time of writing Grangee can be backed at 25/1 with SkyBet for the 2023 David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle

History will show Paul Townend rode Grangee in this year’s Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. It may soon be forgotten that Willie Mullins’ number one jockey switched rides after Brandy Love was declared lame on the morning of the race. Nevertheless, there is every chance Townend was riding the winner of next year's Mares' Hurdle. 

Aside from under-priced favourite Dinoblue (who was always the mount of Mark Walsh), Grangee went off the shortest of Mullins’ five other runners, suggesting she takes high rank in the Closutton pecking order. 

Ridden with notable confidence, Grangee ran a solid race to finish third behind the unbeaten Love Envoi and the experienced Ahorsewithnoname, who outran huge odds of 50/1. Sent off at 13/2, Grangee travelled kindly throughout the race but could not reel in her two rivals, eventually beaten by just shy of three lengths. The 124-rated Nurse Susan chased her home for fourth.

Townend was not hard on Grangee, and she appears to be a mare who will improve for a step-up in trip. The Grade 1 Mares' Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse in April would be an obvious short-term aim and one can reasonably assume Grangee will graduate to be a contender in the 2023 Mares’ Hurdle.

Grangee did not race in point-to-points but excelled as a bumper horse, winning on debut at Galway and racing five times in this division in all. In 2021 she won a Leopardstown Grade 2 (beating Party Central and the aforementioned Brandy Love in the process) and a Punchestown Grade 3, with the now 132-rated Choice Of Words in behind. 

"One can reasonably assume Grangee will graduate to be a contender at the 2023 Mares' Hurdle"

She would also be placed in Listed company at Market Rasen (behind Eileendover, who has mostly plied her trade on the flat for Pam Sly) and finished a creditable sixth behind Sir Gerhard in last year’s Champion Bumper. Undoubtedly the strongest form of all.

Grangee’s three bumper wins all came over a standard two-miles and on ground officially described as soft, soft/heavy and yielding. It would therefore come as some surprise were she not to have the requisite stamina for the two-and-a-half-mile test of the Mares’ Hurdle. 

Just like her brilliant predecessor Benie Des Dieux, Grangee is a daughter of Great Pretender. Her dam is the Video Rock mare Quelle Mome, making her a full sister to Box Office - a solid enough chaser for the J P McManus/Jonjo O’Neill combination. 

Although generally sticking to minimal trips, Box Office had winning form over 2m3f and even took in trips over an extended three miles. Given she settles and seems a relatively straightforward ride, the intermediate trip of the Mares’ Hurdle should be well within Grangee’s compass.

Grangee will be seven next year, an ideal age for the race. Indeed, Glens Melody, Vroum Vroum Mag, Benie Des Dieux. Roksana, Black Tears and this year’s winner Marie’s Rock were all aged seven when winning.

If we accept that Quevega was a freak (and she herself won the race as a seven-year-old) and take her six victories out of the equation, of the nine remaining renewals of the Mares’ Hurdle, only inaugural winner Whiteoak (5), Apples Jade (5) and Honeysuckle (6) were winners not aged seven. And the latter pair are exceptional.

"The intermediate trip of the Mares’ Hurdle should be well within Grangee’s compass."

But what of the opposition? Mullins is always heavy-handed in the mares division and ran no fewer than 11 across the three restricted races at Cheltenham in 2021. 

The trainer has won nine of 15 renewals of the Mares’ Hurdle (not to mention five of seven in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle and both renewals of the Mares’ Chase) and Grangee backers can safely predict many of the bigger dangers will hail from her own yard. Of course, we must also pay due respect to those who finished immediately in-front and around the mare at Cheltenham, should they take their chance.

Perhaps this is where the point-to-point form and Mares’ Chase come in to play. Brandy Love came straight from the point field, and it would be no surprise to see her sent chasing in 2022/23. Meanwhile stablemate Allegorie De Vassy (who missed Cheltenham through injury) appears to have the scope and experience to also take in the bigger obstacles.

Whilst this would certainly mean two of Grangee’s rivals are out of the reckoning, equally it would be pointless trying to second guess Mullins at this stage. What is for certain is that several talented mares will be pitched in against Grangee should she run in the Mares’ Hurdle next March. It will be no easy task, but then no Cheltenham assignment ever is. 

At this stage it would be foolish to overlook those who ran in this year's renewal of the Mares' Hurdle, not least the unlucky Telmesomthinggirl, runner-up Queens Brook and, of course, the winner Marie's Rock. It should go without saying that these are respected and feared rivals. 

However, Grangee appears to have the ideal profile for the race and certainly represents value. She has twice run extremely well at the festival and has already finished ahead of all her stablemates in the novice division. A further emphasis on stamina should bring out the best in the mare and she has already proven herself to be versatile enough to win on ground ranging from heavy to good.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Grangee can reverse the form with current joint-favourite Love Envoi, at the very least. For what it is worth, that rival has opened at 10/1 on the early markets whereas Grangee can be backed at a generous 25/1. 

All things considered, she rates as one of the better Cheltenham bets, albeit at this extremely early stage.

Image: Carine06 from UK, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons 

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