Donn's Articles » Quevega


Things were going to plan for Quevega in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle at Punchestown on Thursday until she reached the second last flight. She got in a little tight to the obstacle and landed slightly flat-footed. In a heartbeat, she suddenly had five lengths to make up on the leader Jetson as he set sail for home, and Jetson was not stopping.

Quevega dig get out after the leader, as you knew she would. She closed to within a length and a quarter of Jessica Harrington’s gelding, but that was as close as she got before they reached the winning line. And gradually, as the horses pulled up and slowed to a walk, and as the riders sat down in their saddles again and lowered their goggles, the realisation dawned: Quevega had been defeated.

It was an unusual concept. Quevega wins, that’s the rule. The last time she had been beaten was in May 2009. That’s five years ago, half her lifetime.

The announcement of her retirement from racing in the aftermath of Thursday’s race came as no surprise. Indeed, the surprise would have been had she not been retired. The wheels of her second career as a broodmare have already been set in motion, as she went to visit the Ballylinch Stud stallion Beat Hollow on Friday. Her first foal will be eagerly awaited.

Quevega was an outstanding racemare. Owned by the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate, Ger O’Brien and Sean Deane, and expertly trained by Willie Mullins, she won 16 of the 24 races that she contested, 13 of 18 over hurdles for Willie Mullins, 11 out of 13 for Ruby Walsh, and nine of her last 10. She won four World Series Hurdles at Punchestown and, famously, she won six Mares’ Hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival. She has won six of the seven renewals of the race to date, she has made it her own, and it would be surprising if her name was not now incorporated into the race title.

In so doing, she set a new record for greatest number of wins at the Cheltenham Festival, thereby eclipsing Golden Miller’s record, which had stood since 1936. Of course, Golden Miller won five Gold Cups, the Mares’ Hurdle does not carry the prestige that the Gold Cup does, but to win any race at the Cheltenham Festival is a huge achievement. To win six is unprecedented.

In one sense, it was a pity that we never got to see Quevega race against Big Buck’s. He never came to Punchestown and she never ran in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. Of course, that match will never come to pass now, but it is fitting that both horses should be retired from the racetrack within a couple of weeks of each other.

Quevega was the beneficiary of the brilliance of Willie Mullins as a trainer and a manager of racehorses. People lamented the fact that we did not see her for 11 months of the year, between Punchestown in April and Cheltenham in March. But if we had, if she had raced through the depths of winter, it is probable that she would not have achieved all that she achieved on the racetrack.

History will recognise her as one of the great National Hunt racemares. She will be missed.

© The Sunday Times, 4th May 2014