COCKNEY SPARROW will give star mare Quevega a run for her money at the Cheltenham Festival provided she stays the trip, according to her North Yorkshire trainer John Quinn.
No horse has beaten Quevega in the last five renewals of the OLGB Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of National Hunt’s showpiece meeting, but Norton-based Quinn believes his Listed winner will run a “huge race”.
Key to Cockney Sparrow’s chances of causing a massive upset at Prestbury Park, Quinn believes, will be her getting every yard of the two-and-a-half mile contest — a distance over which she has never been tried.
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But the North Yorkshire handler, who has enjoyed Festival success with Character Building in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Chase and Countrywide Flame in the Triumph Hurdle, is upbeat she will be up to the challenge.
“Cockney Sparrow is in the Mares’ Hurdle,” confirmed Quinn. “Drying ground would suit her and I don’t know if she will stay but if she does she will run a big race.
“If she stays she will give Quevega a race. Her run in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle (where she finished second) was not a fluke.”
Quevega, who has won 15 of her 22 starts, is an 8-11 favourite for a contest she has never lost. The ten-year-old hasn’t been seen on the track since handing out a five-length thrashing to Reve De Sivola in the World Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in April last year.
Cockney Sparrow was a three-length second to My Tent Or Yours, one of the leading contenders for this year’s Champion Hurdle, at Gosforth Park in December and, although she fell when Annie Power won at Doncaster at the end of January, Quinn said there have been no ill effects from the tumble.
“If she doesn’t stay she will go back over two miles but she won at Ayr on the flat over one mile, five-and-a-half furlongs in September and they came back to her a couple of times but she wasn’t stopping at the line.
“In the Fighting Fifth, My Tent Or Yours quickened up and put the race to bed but she wasn’t stopping then either.
“You do have to look at breeding and she has got a flat rather than a jumping pedigree. There are distance horses in her pedigree, though.
“I am upbeat. She is a very good filly. She is good in the spring and, although she fell at Doncaster, she came out of it fine.
“Cockney Sparrow has never been out of the money over jumps, apart from when she fell and it was bottomless ground that day. She has schooled since and, if she stays, she will run a big race.”