COCKNEY SPARROW bids to dethrone the mighty mare Quevega as the Cheltenham Festival gets under way today.
The North Yorkshire horse, representing the Norton yard of trainer John Quinn, is going for glory in the OLGB Mares’ Hurdle.
A Listed winner for Quinn, who has tasted victory at the showpiece National Hunt meeting before with Character Building and Countrywide Flame, Cockney Sparrow takes on two and a half miles for the first time with her trainer hoping she will get the trip.
If she does, he feels she has a shot against Quevega, the Willie Mullins-saddled queen of Cheltenham who has won the last five runnings of the Mares’ Hurdle.
“She’s trained well since Doncaster and had a few nice schools,” Quinn said of Cockney Sparrow’s recent progress. “If she stays, and I think she will, I expect her to run a big race.”
While North Yorkshire eyes may be focused on Cockney Sparrow, all others will be watching the battle for the Stan James Champion Hurdle – where Hurricane Fly bids for a third victory in the race.
Willie Mullins’ stable star, who has won an astonishing 19 Grade 1 races in his career, bids to retain the title he reclaimed 12 months ago when beating Rock On Ruby and Quinn’s Countrywide Flame. The ten-year-old isn’t getting any younger, though, and he must face down formidable opponents if he is to make it a hat-trick.
Compatriot Our Conor, the scintillating 15-length victor of the Triumph Hurdle last year, may have been beaten twice by Hurricane Fly but by decreasing distances.
There was just a length-and-a-half between them in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January.
He must also defeat the hugely talented British-trained pair of My Tent Or Yours and The New One.
That duo last faced off in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton when The New One, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, hit the last flight hard and lost by half-a-length.
How My Tent Or Yours, saddled by Nicky Henderson, handles the climb to the finish at Cheltenham is another question which will be answered.
He was well placed in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after the final flight in 2013 but faltered to finish runner-up to Champagne Fever on his only appearance at the Gloucestershire track.
Mullins will be looking to get off to a fast start with the fancied Vautour in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while Champagne Fever will try to win at the Festival for the third year in a row as he represents the Irish trainer in the Racing Post Arkle.
A titanic battle with Rock On Ruby, the Champion Hurdle winner in 2012, and the Paul Nicholls-trained Dodging Bullets awaits.
North Yorkshire’s other raider, as the four-day meeting gets into full swing, is Attaglance, who won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the Festival two years ago, in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Chase for Norton’s Malcolm Jefferson.