The ‘who’ were the jumping fillies and mares, the ‘where’ was Britain, the ‘why’ was the growing gender gap, of equine inequality in the upper echelons, but the ‘when’ of an introduction of a mandatory 5-lb allowance for mares, ahead of the 1983/84 season, had an ironic twist in that it coincided with the arrival at the top of the phenomenal Dawn Run.
Fast forward thirty or so years, in reaction to a decline in the number of filly foals being registered by breeders and the jumps-bred mares at the sales still being unfavoured or indeed unsold, the Irish authorities went a step further by increasing the sex allowance from 5 lb to 7 lb and introducing the first Grade 1 hurdles that were ringfenced and restricted to mares, the inaugural one, at Fairyhouse, won by Annie Power no less.
Ever since then, and for some time before, the BHA has enacted its own programmed plan and planned programme to provide incentives to own and train National Hunt mares, now as many as nine listed chases for mares in the season, one of which comes at Carlisle this Sunday.
And it’s working, in more ways than one, as quantity is delivering quality. The bigger the pool the better, on a literal level, regards collective strength and the power pressure spilling outwards, so that more females are crashing the old boys’ clubs, acting as aggressors with their allowance.
Last March, Shattered Love became the first mare for 23 years to win a novice chase at the Cheltenham Festival, while Ms Parfois came within half a length of making it two, in the National Hunt Chase. The mares are on the march.
When Ms Parfois gets underway in the Ladbrokes Trophy on Saturday, that will be the thirty-first mare to contest an open Graded chase in Britain and Ireland in the calendar year, the most there has been since amendments and allowances began to be made all the way back to Dawn Run’s time. That’s a significant statistic, a revealing trend of not only the females coming into line with the males but also of National Hunt coming into line with the Flat, where 2018 belonged to the glamour girls, Enable in the Northern Hemisphere, Winx in the Southern, and Almond Eye the storm in the East.
It’s no surprise that, in the last two decades, Willie Mullins has led the charge, over 50% more instances of letting his fiery females take on the males than the next highest, Jessica Harrington, ahead of the best of the British, Nicky Henderson. It’s also an upshot of the concentration of power, whereby Mullins, increasingly, has numerous high-maintenance fillies and therefore numerous high-priority targets, moving on from the days of one-horse races and one-race horses like Quevega.
Ms Parfois is in deep for her comeback, but in single figures in the market, the Ladbrokes Trophy a graded chase second but a handicap first, earning all of the 146 mark she’s running off after her sequence of seconds against some good-class geldings last spring, in the Reynoldstown at Ascot prior to Cheltenham then Aintree. She and Shattered Love are the blueprint for La Bague Au Roi, who started her chasing career with a bang and is eschewing the easier option of the aforementioned Carlisle mares chase to return to Newbury on Friday and re-engage Lostintranslation in the Grade 2 Berkshire.
#RUKMomentOfTheDay: La Bague Au Roi (@wgreatrexracing) wins over fences at the first time of asking under @dickyjohnson77.— Racing UK (@racing_uk) November 8, 2018
Watch all the the finishes from @NewburyRacing and @MarketRasenRace for free in our results and replay section 👉👉 https://t.co/7iJOPsdIyZ pic.twitter.com/LzePJxP0JZ
La Bague Au Roi had a length and a half to spare on Lostintranslation (and six and a half on Talkischeap) earlier in the month, over 2¾m, and they meet again on the same terms on Friday, more likely to be asked of her by them but more likely to be given by her, remembering her hot-spots as a hurdler and reflecting on the electricity that ran through her chasing debut, her and Johnson an all-action match made in heaven, beaten only once from the five times they’ve teamed up together.
Some mares are better equipped than others to measure up to the males, and La Bague Au Roi has the tools, the talent and the temperament to fight to the end and follow the trend, a trend which adds dimensions and drama to National Hunt racing. And whatever happens in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on Saturday, just wait until we see Laurina.