Skip to main content Skip to site footer


Press Release 1st January 2023 Cheltenham

By Graham Clark

Marie’s Rock, who ended last season with Grade One victories at The Cheltenham Festival and Punchestown, made a successful seasonal debut when coming home the facile winner of the Grade Two Careers@Dornangroup.Com Relkeel Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

The eight year old Milan mare, who is owned by Middleham Park Racing, was making her first racecourse appearance in 246 days. Partnered by Nico de Boinville, the 11-2 chance was always tracking the leaders. Going second on the turn for home, she took the lead just after the last to win by an unextended six lengths from Dashel Drasher with her stable companion First Street another head adrift in third.

Winning trainer Nicky Henderson was enjoying a record-equalling fourth Relkeel Hurdle success following Zaynar (2009) and Oscar Whisky (2011, 2012).

Henderson said: “It was remarkable to be honest with you. I was trying to train her earlier on in the year and I couldn’t see anywhere to go. She wants two and a half as that is the perfect trip for her but there wasn’t a race anywhere.

“Tom Palin (National Hunt Manager at Middleham Park Racing) said I can’t find a race until the Relkeel. I was trying to train her early on in the year and she was not showing me anything which is what she did two seasons ago when she took a season out. I said Tom that suits me I will stop and start again then all of a sudden her work was completely different again.

“She will go for the Mares. I suppose our original idea might have been to try her over three miles earlier on. There was a Listed race but I wasn’t happy with her. I wasn’t going to try as we would have failed and got the wrong reading. She tanked up there and I thought she would have taken a blow at the top of Cleeve Hill. It is great getting your ducks in order but you have got to them in the right order and they have to be swimming downstream at the same time.

“To be very fair to do that was pretty impressive. Nico sat there having a lovely time. She gets through this ground but it is not nice ground and that is nobody's fault. She scampers along she is not one of those great big long striding chasers that can’t get through it. She gets through it better than most. I can’t see any point in going anywhere before Cheltenham now.

“First Street has run a great race and probably didn’t get two and a half miles on that ground as he was going plenty well enough from the last but he probably couldn’t just quicken and he flattened out a bit. He wants to come back to two miles on better ground.”

Nico de Boinville said: “It was very impressive. I was surprised she was that impressive in that ground as it was dead and sticky.

“Everyone at Seven Barrows has done a great job getting her ready for today. She felt fresh and jumped brilliantly I thought and she is just a true Grade One mare. I didn’t want to go for her too soon as that last hurdle is set back quite far. I was mindful it was her first race of the season but as soon as I winged the last she set off up the hill and stayed on really well.

“I’m delighted with the run and she is just a fantastic mare. She is very much the one to beat in the Mares’ Hurdle.”

Tom Palin (National Hunt Manager at Middleham Park Racing) said: “It is nice to get one on the board after last year when we had 125 winners.

“We were a bit worried coming into here with fitness as she had been off a while, not through any injury, as this is where we wanted to start her. With the way it was riding out there we thought she might find it hard work late on but shows what we know.

“To be fair to Nicky he has been saying she has been working as well as ever if not better. I think we have just shown what she has been working like at home. She is probably at her very best at the moment.

“We know she likes it around Cheltenham and that is where we will see her next. The Mares’ Hurdle has always been the plan. There was a little bit mentioned by her trainer about going up to three miles and I’m not going to rule that out as she hit the line hard there on soft ground and she is bred to get three miles but there has only been in one dual winner of the Mares’ Hurdle in Quevega and I’m not saying we are anywhere near her but it would be nice to be the only other dual winner. She has a crown so let’s try and defend it.”


Cookie Policy

We use “cookies” to help enhance your experience and improve the functionality of our website. You can find out more in our cookie policy. We also serve cookies, some with chocolate chips, on our racecourses.