Jon Freeman: Quevega's famous five is a boy's own dream come true for Willie Mullins
Flavour of the Cheltenham Festival
Tuesday 12 March 2013
Quevega once again played her dutiful role as best supporting act when rounding off a wonderful day for trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh by winning the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle here today.
But this time she just about stole the show as she arrived dramatically and late to become only the second horse ever to win five times at the Festival.
There was a certain inevitability about this now so familiar outcome as Walsh produced the nine-year-old with a perfectly timed run going to the last before sweeping past the game French-trained runner-up Sirene d'Ainay. Then, as Walsh whipped up the roars on his return to the winner's circle and the crowd responded with five cheers, Mullins reflected on a good job very well done, another career high and a schoolboy dream come true.
"When I was a kid I read all the racing books and dreamt about having a once-in-a-lifetime horse who could maybe make history. And now this mare has done it. This is fantastic."
Though confident that Quevega was ready to do herself justice on her first outing for almost a year, Mullins confessed to being a little concerned as she started off down the Cheltenham hill nearer last than first after clipping the heels of a rival and stumbling, but not worried enough to doubt that the brilliant Walsh knew exactly what he was doing. "They were probably going a bit fast in front and Ruby decided to wait longer than I thought he was going to. But she has a great change of gear, which I knew she could call on if she jumped the last well, which she did," Mullins said.
Jumpers, much more than their Flat counterparts, are lauded for their longevity, as well their talent, which is why Quevega's wonderful achievement is so much admired.
The first to win at five consecutive Festivals since the immortal serial Gold Cup winner Golden Miller (who also won a Grand National) ruled the roost between the two world wars, Quevega has earned a special place in the affections of racing fans, not just because of her record, but also because of those durable qualities.
That she will never be regarded in the same league as Golden Miller, or indeed any of the hurdling greats of the Festival, like Istabraq and Big Buck's, other than as a record holder, is down to the fact that she has never been truly examined at the very highest level on this biggest stage, either at two miles or three, although she has won three Grade One races over three miles in Ireland.
Quevega has beaten everything that has been put in front of her for the past five years at Cheltenham, but basically that has amounted to the same standard of decent but not exceptional mares who take her on each March much more in hope than expectation.
That is not to devalue her achievements, more an observation that you can never really know how good a horse is until it is tested to the limit. A face-off with Big Buck's in the World Hurdle would have been wonderful box office, but it just never happened.
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