Quevega ready for record bid
Willie Mullins is confident Quevega is as good as ever ahead of her bid for an historic sixth consecutive victory in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.
The incredible 10-year-old joined five-times Gold Cup hero Golden Miller as the Festival's joint-winning-most horse when overcoming adversity to raise the roof at Prestbury Park last year, having almost come down when hampered by another horse running down the hill.
As she has done for the last four years, Quevega is making her first appearance of the season at Cheltenham on Tuesday.
Ireland's champion trainer, who also saddles Glens Melody in the race, admits getting his wonder-mare to her peak without the aid of a prep run is a task he relishes.
Mullins said: "Quevega looks good, as does Glens Melody, and they both appear to have travelled over well. She (Quevega) was well ahead of schedule this year, so much so I was contemplating giving her a run at Punchestown.
"My owners don't want to breed from her, they want to race. As a trainer I find it as personally satisfying as anything to produce a horse to go back there year after year. When they have ability, you mind that ability and pick the races."
Glens Melody has won successive Listed prizes in testing conditions at Warwick, but Mullins feels ground conditions could be detrimental to her chance.
He said: "Glens Melody has been to England three times this season and has won twice. She's in good form, but the drying ground would be against her."
Ruby Walsh, who has ridden Quevega to each of her Festival triumphs, said: "She's in really good form and even just to get to Cheltenham six years in a row is unbelievable. I'd say she's in good nick."
Highland Retreat gave Harry Fry his first winner and the young trainer admits he would thrilled if she can pick up minor honours behind Quevega.
Fry said: "She has done nothing but improve. We're all trying to beat one mare, she can't keep on winning, but if we finished second to a legend like her, we'd be over the moon.
"She has come a long way since being my first winner, and has improved 20lb this year alone. It's a drop in trip but there'll be a strong pace."
Second in the ratings behind Quevega is John Quinn's Cockney Sparrow, runner-up in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle earlier in the season but last seen falling behind Annie Power at Doncaster.
Doyly Carte filled the runner-up spot that day and though she was well beaten at Kelso a month ago, trainer Donald McCain is confident she can bounce back.
He told Betfair: "She ran in the Morebattle (Kelso), but probably shouldn't have done as she didn't like the ground. She ran OK, but should have run a lot better.
"On nice ground she should get the two and a half miles and she'd have an each-way chance."
Down Ace is unbeaten in five starts for Fergal O'Brien and won a bumper at Cheltenham last April.
The Gloucestershire trainer said: "She has won all five starts for me, including a Listed race at Taunton, so she deserves her chance.
"I know she's running against Quevega but if she shows her best form, she can finish in the first three or four at a big price. I'll be disappointed if she's not in the frame as she's tough and genuine."
Sixteen 16 mares have been declared, with French challenger and last year's runner-up Sirene D'Ainay again in the field.
Uddy is another contender from across the Channel, while other Irish runners include Jessica Harrington's Cailin Annamh and Jarlath Fahey's Jennies Jewel.