Bar the winner, last year’s Mares’ Hurdle was far from vintage – that can’t be said this term.

At time of writing, defending champ Marie’s Rock heads the market at 9/4 after her hugely impressive win on seasonal reappearance in the G2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old is likely to go straight to the Festival and, health permitting, will surely prove a tough nut to crack.

Her stablemate Epatante doesn’t have an official entry for the race, but it’s vital to note that Henderson said that was done in error, and that they may well supplement her for the race in time, so she cannot be ruled out at 5/1.

The two most likely rivals to Marie’s Rock are Harry Fry’s Love Envoi and Brandy Love – both 4/1 shots at present – for that man Willie Mullins.

The former won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last March and is 2-2 this term, with her most recent 13L success in Listed company at Sandown the standout piece of form.

She was beaten a whopping 8L by Brandy Love last season, though. The latter has so much talent, but is evidently hard to train and a tricky ride. Providing her preparation for the Festival goes to plan, she could just be better than the rest.

Latest Mares’ Hurdle Ante-Post Odds

Honeysuckle (7/1) was handed an entry, although she cannot be advised as connections have said it will be the Champion Hurdle or retirement for the supermare.

They may run Telmesomethinggirl though, who may revert to this race (that she went very well in last year before falling) as she hasn’t looked a natural over fences to date. She’s interesting at 11/1

But the one that interests me the most, and is arguably being overlooked in the market, is Echoes In Rain at 10s.

Willie Mullins’ mare was running a blinder in the Hatton’s Grace last time out before falling two out. The winner Teahupoo, runner-up Klassical Dream and Honeysuckle are all 160+ horses, and I don’t think anyone can suggest she looked out of place in such company.

I also wouldn’t completely write off her stablemate Shewearsitwell, who was fancied for this race last year but suffered a setback and had to miss the Festival. She returned later in the season and was disappointing, but has started to show what she’s made of lately.

However, her price of 12/1 is probably on the skinny side as she also has the Pertemps Final and Stayers’ Hurdle as potential targets.

Frankly, if the eventual winner isn’t one of the aforementioned, I would be very, very shocked.

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