Middleham Park Racing are hunting for more Grade One glory with Marie’s Rock after her top-flight victory at the Cheltenham Festival.
The seven-year-old was an 18-1 winner of the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, scoring by a length and three-quarters under Nico de Boinville for trainer Nicky Henderson.
The triumph was a third this season for the horse and has inspired owners Middleham Park Racing to head to the Punchestown Festival for the Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle, another Grade One contest over the same two-mile-four-furlong trip.
Marie’s Rock could cross paths at Punchestown with stablemate Epatante, who will either take in the mares’ race or opt instead for the two-mile Paddy Power Champion Hurdle.
“Barring an act of God, we’ll be heading over there,” said Tom Palin, MPR’s National Hunt manager.
“As for who we’ve got to take on, it’s my understanding from speaking to Nicky (Henderson) on Tuesday that it is still very much up in the air.
“Epatante is in there and if she turns up then she’s going to be the one to beat now that we’ve seen she can stay two and a half miles.
“If she turns up then she’s a Grade One-winning mare in a Grade One mares’ race – it is what it is and to be the best you’ve got to beat the best, so we’ll give it our best shot.”
Another possible Punchestown opponent is Henry de Bromhead’s Telmesomethinggirl, winner of the mares’ novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham last year and a horse with a live chance at the Festival this time when brought down two from home.
“Quite of lot of the main principles from the David Nicholson are in there at the moment and I imagine a lot of them will turn up,” Palin said.
“The interesting one is Telmesomethinggirl, she was travelling very well before she was brought down two from home, so who knows what might have happened there. It’ll be interesting to see.”
Palin is expecting a sizable and supportive contingent to travel to Kildare to cheer on Marie’s Rock and connections’ spirits remain high after her Festival victory.
“We’re still very much on a high from Cheltenham, we still can’t really believe it,” he said.
“It’s not really sunk in and the team is still on cloud nine that we’ve got a horse good enough to be talking about these races, let alone winning them.
“It should be a very exciting day and the fact that we’ve got people willing to make the effort to go across in these trying times shows you the level of support and excitement behind her.
“Our chance will depend on who turns up but we’re in as good form as we were going to Cheltenham, in fact her last piece of work over the weekend was probably a little bit better than what we saw before Cheltenham.
“She’s in the form of her life, so it makes sense to extend her season while we can. This is the obvious race for her, let’s hope she’ll put up a good show and we’ll come home with some more black type.”