There were momentous tidings here yesterday about two of the three outstanding racemares in Ireland.
Solerina, the indomitable little scrapper who has won 19 races over hurdles, will never run again while Asian Maze, currently one of the favourites for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, may make an audacious switch to the Smurfit Champion Hurdle. Mind you, if she were Solerina, she would probably run in both.
Solerina was hewn from the same flint as Limestone Lad, who had seemed a horse in a lifetime in winning 35 races for Michael Bowe and his father, James. She too operated with ruthless simplicity, jumping her rivals into submission from the front, and their humble origins nourished one of the great romances of recent winters. "It was just a freak, the way they came one after the other," Bowe Jr said. "It won't happen again. I'll be lucky to get another half as good as either of them."
Her retirement will leave the Co Tipperary family with just "three and a half" horses in training, and though Bowe is busy breaking in her half-sister, he knows that things will feel hollow without Solerina. Equally he is aware that she did not display her customary gusto when winning at Naas in January.
"The fact is that we were no longer enjoying watching her over hurdles, waiting for her to go and hurt herself," he said. "As a mare, the great thing is that there is a future for her in the paddocks, and she deserves her chance there now." Bowe is fully conscious of the miraculous odds against this tiny stable successively housing two such ferocious competitors. "People are always asking me the secret," he said. "They did have the same toughness. I must be doing something I don't realise I'm doing, to transform them both into that mould. I'm going to miss her, but it's time to lead her up the aisle." In contrast, Asian Maze represents a member of the most eminent training dynasty in Irish jump racing. Convention prescribes that she should run over three miles at Cheltenham - she is as short as 5-1 for the World Hurdle and is 66-1 for the Champion - but the instinct and upbringing of Tom Mullins demand respect when he confesses himself tempted to run her over just two. He will decide after working the mare after racing at Leopardstown on Sunday.
"I've certainly got an open mind," he said. "The ground will be the major factor. The quicker it is, the more likely she is to run in the World Hurdle. But if it were to get softish, then it shouldn't be a major shock if she ends up in the Champion. It's just she ran so well over two miles on her comeback run at Gowran Park. Soft ground would open it right up, because Colm Murphy thinks Brave Inca doesn't jump out of it. And Macs Joy is second favourite - well, I wouldn't mind another run against him after Gowran, which was her first race in a long time."
Murphy will also take Brave Inca to Leopardstown on Sunday and reports that Feathard Lady is back in light training and may yet make Punchestown in April.
* Police yesterday arrested another jockey as part of their investigations into allegations of race-fixing. The City of London Police said the jockey was arrested in Cumbria on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud.
NB: New Entic
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