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Cheltenham Icons: A look at Quevega's career

Willie Mullins is no stranger to training Cheltenham Festival stars. He is, after all, the all-time leading trainer - but it is unlikely he will ever have one as dominant as the queen of the Mares' Hurdle - Quevega.

There have been dominant horses across the history of racing, sometimes you just have a good one on your hands. Dominance at the Cheltenham Festival however, is where horses become icons. 

Quevega made history back in 2014 when she won a record sixth Mares' Hurdle in a row, a period of dominance never before seen in the sport. 

From her first appearance in the race in 2009 to the last in 2014, 100 horses came to challenge Quevega to win - all 100 failed.

Not only could nobody beat the superstar mare at Cheltenham, it took until her final appearance in the race in 2014 to finally be given a tough time, with Ruby Walsh having to give everything he had to power his mount up the hill to narrowly beat a game Glens Melody by just under a length.

Here, we look back on an exceptional career. 

A dominant youngster in France 

Whilst it may not exactly have been a sign of what was to come, Quevega's beginnings in France gave an insight into how dominant she could go on to be.

Starting off in 2007 and being trained by B De Watrigant, she won her first race at Vichy over 12 furlongs, shortly before replicating the win two weeks later. Quevega capped her time with De Watrigant by sealing the hat-trick, winning over 11 furlongs at Durtal. 

Quevega's impressive debut season was enough to get her sent over to Ireland to be trained by Willie Mullins, and if anyone knows how to take advantage of every drop of potential a horse has, it's him.

The future superstar was yet to taste defeat, although stepping up in distance and going over hurdles offered a whole new challenge. 

Picking up where she left off

Mullins' new star had got into the habit of winning races in France. It was known that things wouldn't have been quite so easy in Ireland, but any doubts were short lived.

On her Irish debut at Punchestown, Quevega won a shade cosily - crossing the line with a six-length advantage in a maiden hurdle.

Two months later she reappeared in a novice hurdle at Gowran Park, and this time the bookmakers weren't taking any chances, marking her up as a short-priced favourite. 

Quevega duly delivered, this time winning by 15 lengths. It was certainly starting to come to light just how much of a talent this horse was. 

Learning how to lose

After winning her first five races, with the littlest of fuss it has to be added, it seemed the time was right to send Quevega into the big leagues - and that is exactly what Willie Mullins did. 

Just 67 days after winning her first race over hurdles, Quevega took a huge step up in company to run in the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion 4YO Hurdle.

That race maybe came too quickly for Mullins' new star, finishing a tailed off ninth. 

That wasn't going to be her last attempt against the big hitters in her debut season though. Two months later she returned to France to take part in the Prix Alain du Breil, a Grade 1 hurdle over 2m3f.

Her record did unfortunately take another blot that day, but the performance was a promising one, she belied odds of 50/1 to finish third behind a certain Hurricane Fly - a future Champion Hurdle winner. 

It wasn't a bad way of ending a debut season over hurdles, and Willie Mullins' new star had definitely shown she was one to keep an eye on at the very top of the game. 

A season of two halves 

Eight months after last being seen, Quevega made a return to winning ways in the 2009 season - taking a 2m4f hurdle race at Punchestown by four lengths.

Back to winning ways, that was a great prep run for her first taste of the Cheltenham Festival, and she did not disappoint. 

Running in the Mares' Hurdle over two and a half miles, Quevega met a field including the previous year's winner United and Ascot Hurdle winner Chomba Womba. It was by no means going to be an easy task, or at least, it shouldn't have been. 

Willie Mullins' mare won at an absolute canter, powering up the hill to win going away and leaving United a whole 14 lengths behind. As debuts at the festival go, this was certainly a special one. 

Unfortunately, the second half of the season wasn't quite as successful. 

After her Cheltenham romp, Quevega travelled to Punchestown's Champion Hurdle to take part against the best two mile hurdlers, this time from both sexes, but could only muster a third placed finish.

Her final race of the season was, again, a return to France to take place in the Prix la Barka but she would come up short, finishing ninth. 

After such a promising start to the season, the second half had people wondering if she really was one of the best in the business. 

An era of domination 

296 days after her loss in the Prix la Barka, Quevega made her return, heading straight to Cheltenham without a prep run to defend her Mares' Hurdle crown. 

Given that she was returning from such a long absence without a tune-up run, and the fact her previous two runs ended in disappointment, all eyes were on Quevega as she looked to make it two wins from two at the festival.

The mare didn't disappoint, travelling comfortably through the race before asserting dominance up the hill, powering on strongly to win by a cosy four-length margin. 

Little did anyone know, this would be the race that kicked off Quevega's pure dominance, this was the start of a nine-race unbeaten run that would span over four years. 

This time, unlike the previous season, Quevega was sent to the World Series Hurdle at Punchestown and not the Champion Hurdle - and this proved to be a winning formula.

Quevega won the 3-miler at Punchestown, showing her staying power when finishing strongly to claim an assertive victory over Bensalem. That's where her season ended, and would continue to end for the rest of her career.

For the next three years, Quevega would go on to complete the same Cheltenham and Punchestown double, making it five straight wins at Cheltenham Festival and four World Series Hurdles in a row. 

This four-year span gave Quevega and opportunity to really stake her claim as one of the most dominant mares in racing - and she could really cement her place in the record books in her next, and final, season. 

One final season to make history

Going into the 2014 season, It was the same tried and tested formula for Quevega as it had been the previous four years - starting the season with the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham before finishing up the season with Punchestown's World Series Hurdle.

However, the stakes this year were much different. 

In what was to be Quevega's final season in racing, she had the opportunity to become the first horse ever to win at six consecutive Cheltenham Festivals, beaten Golden Miller's feat of five straight Cheltenham Gold Cups - a record that had stood since the 1930s.

Quevega went into the race, understandably, as 8/11 favourite but it wasn't going to be easy. The now 10-year-old was up against some much younger opposition and despite being such a strong favourite, this would be her toughest test yet. 

Two fences from the finish and doubts were starting to creep in. Jumping the last it was in fact Quevega's younger stablemate Glens Melody that looked to be travelling better, racing fans all over were desperate for the superstar to find something in the tank and make history. 

That is exactly what her, and jockey Ruby Walsh, did. Giving everything that he had, Walsh managed to unlock the final bit of fuel in his mount's tank and saw her surge home to win late. 

History was made. 

Unfortunately, Quevega's career couldn't end on a victory. Going for her fifth World Series Hurdle in a row, Quevega put in a valiant effort when making up a lot of ground to challenge late, but she couldn't quite reach the eventual winner Jetson. 

That was to be her final race before retiring to start her new career as a broodmare.

It may not have been the fairy-tale end that racing fans wanted, but regardless of the result she was retiring as a legend. 

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