Benie Des Dieux is currently a top priced 8/1 with Paddy Power in the ante post betting for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival following a sensational and career-best performance when landing the French Champion Hurdle.
History suggests that as a mare she has it all to do to capture glory in the Grade 1 contest as she would be only the third to do so in 35 years following the successes of Rose Ravine (1985) and Shuil Ar Aghaidh (1993).
However, I firmly believe that she has the talent and potential to go right to the very top in the staying ranks judged on what she has achieved since joining Champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins.
This ex-French trained eight-year-old, who carries the famous pink and green colours of leading owner Rich Ricci, started life off with the Closutton-based handler by landing three straight successes over fences.
She then had her attentions switched to the smaller obstacles and came from off the pace to land the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival when beating Midnight Tour by half-a-length.
Benie Des Dieux then ran out the ready winner of the Grade 1 Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle At the Punchestown Festival when staying on strongly to beat Augusta Kate by three lengths under Paul Townend – who is once again in the plate.
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Awesome display at Auteuil
The daughter of Great Pretender only had three starts in the 2018/19 season and was set to retain her Mares’ Hurdle crown at the Cheltenham Festival when three lengths clear and looking in no danger only to come to grief at the final flight.
She then gained compensation when retaining her crown the Annie Power at Punchestown before putting in a career-best performance when lowering the colours of last year’s winner De Bon Coeur to land the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil in Paris.
Benie Des Dieux relished the step up to an extended 3m 1f in her stride, travelling well throughout in the hands of Paul Townend before taking up the running two from home and scooting clear to win by six and a half lengths from the 4/6 favourite.
It was an awesome display against a top class rival who has won 13 of her 18 career starts, including three times at Grade 1 level.
Mullins keen to take on the boys
Speaking immediately after the race, a delighted Mullins told Sky Sports Racing: “I was surprised how easily she did it.
“De Bon Coeur appeared to be travelling so well the whole way. I could see Paul travelling well, too, but I thought De Bon Coeur might have more and they decided to come on the outside down the back and we stuck to the inside.
“I don’t know whether that was a winning or losing move, but our mare did it nicely.”
He added: “We only raced her in the mares’ races because they were there and winnable and we’re lucky enough to have horses to run in the other races. I wouldn’t have any problem running against the geldings with her.
Those comments suggest Mullins is likely to target the Stayers Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, a race he was won twice before with Nichols Canyon in 2016 and Penhill the following year, rather than opt for the easier option of the Mares’ Hurdle.
Handy sex allowance
It is the right move for me as Benie Des Dieux clearly has a huge engine and is highly talented. She is also totally unexposed as a stayer and will receive a handy 5lb sex allowance in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Zhe is currently rated a conservative 156 and taking the allowance into account has just 8lb improvement to find with this year’s Stayers’ hero Paisley Park.
Given Benie Des Dieux progressive profile that does not look unsurmountable. At the current odds on offer I therefore think that she cracking each-way value in the ante post betting for the 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle.