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Benie Des Dieux is the red-hot favourite to continue Willie Mullins’ domination of the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday.
The Closutton maestro has claimed this prize nine times in the 11 years it has been run – with the remarkable six-time winner Quevega joined on the roll of honour by Glens Melody, Vroum Vroum Mag and Benie Des Dieux.
Despite having been off the track since following up her Cheltenham triumph in the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown last April, Benie Des Dieux is all the rage to successfully defend her crown under Ruby Walsh – who has already nominated her as his best chance of the Festival.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “She’s a very good mare and she’s been in training all season. The only reason she hasn’t run is because of the way the ground has been and we’re not at all worried about the fact she hasn’t run this season.
“She looks the best of ours and we’re looking forward to running her.”
Benie Des Dieux will have plenty of back up, with Mullins also declaring Elimay, Good Thyne Tara, Limini and Stormy Ireland.
Mullins junior added: “I think they all have chances.
“Limini has run well in this race before (third behind Apple’s Jade in 2017), we’ve had a clear run with her since her good run in the Galmoy Hurdle in Gowran and I think the ground will suit her.
“Stormy Ireland ran a good race in the Triumph Hurdle last year before she fell at the last and I think the Old Course will suit her better than the New Course.
“There wasn’t much between Good Thyne Tara and Elimay at Leopardstown over Christmas and hopefully both have a chance of picking up prize-money.”
The home team is headed by Phil Kirby’s stable star Lady Buttons.
The prolific mare is unbeaten in four starts this season – taking her overall tally to 12 – and connections were seriously considering having a crack at Altior in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.
However, after much deliberation, Kirby has decided to keep Lady Buttons against her own sex over the smaller obstacles.
Asked how tough the decision was, he said: “It was tough enough, to be honest, but in the end we decided to run her in the race we felt she was more likely to win. Neither race is easy, but we thought the other one was that bit tougher.
“Nothing stands out in this race on ratings and we can always go back over fences at Aintree if we want to.
“She seems very well. Everything has gone according to plan and she looks great.”
Other contenders include Dan Skelton’s Roksana, the supplemented Jester Jet from Tom Lacey’s yard, the Fergal O’Brien-trained Cap Soleil and Alan King’s Mia’s Storm.