The Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase will replace the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The British Horseracing Authority announced in August of last year that a mares’ chase would be added to the programme at the showpiece meeting at Prestbury Park from 2021, replacing an existing race which had yet to be decided.
Which race should be dropped has been the source of much debate but it was confirmed it will be the Listed novices’ handicap chase, which was established when a fourth day was added to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005.
The novices’ handicap chase, which was traditionally run on the opening day of the Festival, will now be staged at Sandown as part of the Paddy Power Imperial Cup meeting just days before the Festival.
The new Grade Two Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, registered as the Liberthine Mares’ Chase, will be run on Gold Cup day, with the Grand Annual Chase moving to the Wednesday and the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle moving to the opening day.
Cheltenham’s clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, said: “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase into the racing calendar for The Festival 2021. Not only is this a great example of the sport working together to boost the mares’ race programme in Britain to benefit the industry, but we also now have an improved mares’ population providing quality competition.
“Deciding which race to replace was not an easy decision and it was important that we took into account all the factors and feedback we received. But when we evaluated the other novice chase opportunities at The Festival, as well as the importance of maintaining the current balance of chases and hurdles over the four days, this was considered the best option.”
Eleven-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls has welcomed the introduction of a mares’ chase at the Festival and hopes to saddle Laurina – winner of the Grade Two Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival when trained by Willie Mullins.
Nicholls said: “I fully support the introduction of the Mares’ Chase, and the positive impact that it will have on the racing industry.
“There will certainly be plenty of good mares in both Britain and Ireland to contest it and I hope to have a good candidate in Laurina. It looks like the obvious race for her, and she already has good form at Cheltenham so it will definitely be a potential target for her come March.
“It will no doubt have been a tough decision in choosing which of the races to lose, but in this case at least those horses will have lots of opportunities elsewhere.”
Ruby Walsh, the Festival’s all-time leading rider with 59 victories, said: “The Mares’ Chase will prove a great addition to The Festival, especially when it beds in over a three or four year period.
“Jumps horses rarely have a financial value when they finish racing, but for owners who are lucky enough to have a good mare, they can be worth a considerable amount as broodmares and thus owners get some return on their investment.
“Therefore the need for mares-only races is paramount for the value of unraced fillies, to encourage owners to buy them as racehorses. Having the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase to go along with the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle adds to the attraction of purchasing a filly.
“Cheltenham are showing their support to the breeding industry by adding this race and in my opinion showing a loyalty to the whole horseracing industry and not just the sport.”
Paddy Power make the Willie Mullins-trained Salsaretta the 6-1 favourite for the inaugural running, ahead of her stable companion Elfile and Henry de Bromhead’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On at 8-1.