Cheltenham Festival favourite Marie’s Rock is set to head straight to the showpiece meeting without another run, connections have confirmed.
The Middleham Park Racing-owned five-year-old is a best-priced 4-1 market leader for the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, having won each of her three starts for Nicky Henderson in impressive fashion.
Successful on her bumper debut at Ffos Las last spring, the daughter of Milan has since bolted up over hurdles at Haydock before following up in Listed company at Taunton late last month.
Tom Palin, Middleham Park’s National Hunt manager, said: “These things can change, but at this stage the plan is for Marie’s Rock to head straight to the Festival, where her only entry will be in the mares’ novices’ hurdle.
“We didn’t really want to run her this weekend and next weekend there is not much for her, unless she was to carry a double penalty in an ordinary novice. There probably wouldn’t be much point in doing that apart from jumping a few hurdles in public.
“Nicky Henderson is the master of getting horses ready for Cheltenham at home and he’s happy to do that.”
Marie’s Rock is very much Britain’s main hope for a race Willie Mullins has won every year since its inception in 2016.
Palin respects the threat posed by the Irish champion trainer and the rest of the potential opposition.
He added: “Every morning after I wake up I say ‘good morning’ to the Mrs and then I’m straight on Oddschecker to check if Marie’s Rock is still favourite, just to make sure it’s real.
“It is a bit surreal to have a genuine Cheltenham Festival favourite. I think there are 16 owners in Marie’s Rock, which is a good number, and they are obviously all very excited.
“Willie Mullins has won this race every year it’s been run, so you have to respect whatever he brings across.
“Henry de Bromhead’s mare (Minella Melody) beat a couple of Willie’s in a Grade Three at Fairyhouse last weekend, so you have to respect her, and Nicky (Henderson) also has Floressa.
“Her odds were pushed out to 14-1 after she was beaten at Doncaster on Saturday, but that was in open company and I thought her jumping was very slick. I wouldn’t rule her out.
“We respect all the opposition, but Marie’s Rock has been towards the head of the betting all the way through and we’ll find out if she’s good enough on the day.”