Cheltenham breaks new ground on the second day of The April Meeting next Thursday, April 19, with a seven-race card devoted exclusively to fillies and mares.
A first for a Jump racecourse in the UK, the £190,000 programme includes three Listed races headed by the £40,000 EBF/Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase (2.40pm).
The two mile, five furlong contest has attracted 16 entries including top-weight Mia’s Storm (11st 10lb, Alan King), who was an impressive Listed chase winner at Market Rasen in November and fell on her latest outing in the G1 32Red Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Other leading contenders include Happy Diva (11st 1lb, Kerry Lee), runner-up in the Listed Smarkets Lady Protectress Mares' Chase at Huntingdon in February, plus Smarkets Challenger Series Mares' Chase Final Handicap Chase winner Rons Dream (11st, Peter Bowen).
French import Got Away (11st) captured a Listed mares’ chase over an extended two and three-quarter miles at Leicester in January on her second start for Oliver Sherwood but was pulled up on her latest appearance in the Smarkets Lady Protectress Mares' Chase.
The five-year-old has the option of lining up in the EBF/Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase or dropping down to an extended two miles for the £25,000 Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Handicap Chase (5.00pm, eight entries).
Lambourn-based Sherwood commented today: “Got Away will run in one of the races on Thursday. I want to speak to the owners and Leighton Aspell, even though he won’t be riding, but if I would say that she is more likely to go for the longer race.
“She won over an extended two miles and six furlongs at Leicester, but she only just got the trip that day, and there was a legitimate excuse for her run at Huntingdon, when she came back with a dirty tracheal wash.
“She is fine now and has some good form around Auteuil in France. It looks like the ground is going to dry up a bit over the coming days, but I don’t see that being a problem for her. I think good to soft ground would be perfect.”
Sherwood could also be represented on day two of The April Meeting by The Organist (11st 1lb) and Hitherjacques Lady (10st 7lb), who both hold entries in the £25,000 Listed Catesby Estates Plc Mares’ Handicap Hurdle (3.15pm, 24 entries) over an extended two and a half miles.
The Organist, a Listed winner at Doncaster in 2016, was fourth behind this year’s G1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle runner-up Midnight Tour (11st 10lb, Alan King) in the same race last year and could return to Cheltenham on the back of a fine fifth in the Coral Cup at The Festival last month.
Hitherjacques Lady was pulled up in the G2 olbg.com Mares' Hurdle at Ascot in January but returned to form on her latest outing with a good second behind Clyne in handicap hurdle at Uttoxeter on March 17.
Sherwood added: “I have to speak to Frank Berry (racing manager to owner J P McManus) regarding where we are going with The Organist as the ground is important to her. It was soft enough for her at The Festival, but she still ran very well.
“She could go to Cheltenham or alternatively head to Ayr on Friday. She deserved to really be in the first four in the Coral Cup but it was a cracking run and we were over the moon with her.
“Hitherjacques Lady is different in that she wants softer ground but she could head to Cheltenham as well. Her run at Uttoxeter was very good as she was second to Clyne, who was third in the G1 Aintree Hurdle on Thursday.
“She had a wind operation prior to running at Uttoxeter and it has definitely made a difference.”
Cap Soleil (Fergal O’Brien), runner-up in the G2 Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle at The Festival, and Dame Rose (Richard Hobson), a G2 bumper winner at last year’s Randox Health Grand National Festival, headline 25 contenders for the extended two-mile £25,000 Listed Huw Stevens, Jo Whiley Afterparty Onsale Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (2.05pm).
The fourth and fifth from the same race, Indian Stream (Neil Mulholland) and dual G1 scorer Jer’s Girl (Gavin Cromwell IRE), could also line up along with Brillare Momento (Martin Keighley), a Listed winner at The April Meeting 12 months ago.
Foxy Lass (11st 12lb, Denis Hogan IRE), successful at Ballinrobe in September, features among seven entries for the £40,000 Arkells Brewery Fillies’ Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.25pm).
The Bay Birch (11st 4lb including 7lb penalty) has yet to finish out the first two in five appearances since joining Matt Sheppard and the seven-year-old could bid to follow up emphatic recent wins at Towcester and Exeter in the three and a quarter-mile £20,000 JRL Group Mares’ Handicap Chase (3.50pm, 17 entries).
The action is completed by the £15,000 Spreadex Sports Betting Mares’ Bumper (5.35pm), which has 34 entries headed by Listed runner-up Diamond Gait (Kim Bailey).
The April Meeting gets underway on Wednesday, April 18, when the highlight is the £60,000 G2 Barchester Healthcare Silver Trophy Chase.