'She is the one I'm most looking forward to, she's my best ride of the week' - Walsh not worried about lack of a prep run for banker Benie Des Dieux > https://t.co/hS2o6d791t pic.twitter.com/jhsyBEXYFR— Racing Post (@RacingPost) March 4, 2019
Cheltenham Festival brings out the best horses, trainers and jockeys in pursuit of the most prestigious prizes on offer in the National Hunt. Due to the fierce competition for the titles, success often shifts between the leading trainers at the top of the sport, each enjoying spells at the pinnacle.
However, some trainers specialise in particular races - none more so than Willie Mullins. Mullins has dominated the Mares' Hurdle since it's inception in 2008. The trainer has won nine of the 11 races, including the 2018 version of the event when Benie Des Dieux put forward a fine performance to claim the crown ahead of Midnight Tour by half a length.
The French-bred horse will be vying to win the race for the second time on the bounce, and although there will be fierce competition for the title, she is certainly one of the top 2019 Cheltenham tips for another Mares' Hurdle crown.
Mullins has been bullish about the quality of his charge even though she has only raced once since her Cheltenham triumph. It came at the end of last season when Benie Des Dieux claimed the crown at the Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle. The bay mare issued a solid performance to see off her great rival Apple's Jade, finishing three-and-a-half lengths ahead of the rest of the field.
The result maintained Benie Des Dieux's 100% record in the five races of her career. Unlike Mullins' charge, Gordon Elliott has been proactive this term with Apple's Jade. Since her defeat at the hands of Benie Des Dieux, she has won four races on the bounce, excelling on the course
Mullins would be fearful of the form of Apple's Jade ahead of the Mares' Hurdle, although the saving grace for him and his charge could be the fact that Elliott could declare the French-bred horse for the Champion Hurdle rather than the Mares' Hurdle. The news would be a huge boost for the trainer and would leave the path clear for a 10th triumph in the event. Only Benie Des Dieux's stable-mates Laurina and Limini would seemingly provide a challenge for the eight-year-old and it would still be a win for Mullins.
Battleford gives Ruby Walsh his TENTH winner of the week.— Betfair (@Betfair) December 29, 2016
And that's TWENTY winners for Willie Mullins this week pic.twitter.com/PVuNVNVlDI
There are not many other contenders that are capable of providing a threat to Mullins' crown. In the event last season, pressure did come from an unlikely source. Midnight Tour was a 33/1 outsider for the Mares' Hurdle, and even though he failed to surge past Benie Des Dieux down the stretch, Davy Russell in the saddle still provided a threat. Andy King trained Midnight Tour and only the horse will not return, he will send Mia's Storm forward to contend for the title.
The Irish-bred horse has a victory at Uttoxeter under her belt this term and the Mares' Hurdle at Kempton Park in November where she claimed a victory by two lengths ahead of a decent field. King's charge will need to raise her game to see off the plethora of horses Mullins will be throwing into the event in the bid for a tenth crown.