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Weatherbys Ireland Punchestown Bumper raised to Grade 3 status

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Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) yesterday announced a number of enhancements to the Irish National Hunt race programme for Mares for the 2016/17 National Hunt season, including four additional Listed races and two upgrades to existing Black Type races including the Weatherbys Ireland EBF Mares Bumper at the Punchestown Festival.

The four additional Listed races include two bumpers: the Mucklemeg EBF Flat Race at Gowran Park at the end of September and the Total Enjoyment Flat Race at Fairyhouse in early February. As a result there will now be four Mares only Black Type opportunities in bumpers spread evenly through the season.   

There are also two new Listed hurdle races: the Boreen Belle EBF Novice Hurdle over two miles at Thurles in December, which will provide an additional opportunity between the Grade 3 EBF Mares Novice Hurdle at Down Royal in early November and the Grade 3 Solerina Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse in early February: and a two and a half mile conditions hurdle at Punchestown in mid-February which was introduced in 2014 as trial race for the Cheltenham Festival, and having previously been contested by the likes of Little King Robin, Jennies Jewel, Rock On The Moor and Upsie, in 2016 it saw subsequent Cheltenham Champion Hurdle heroine Annie Power (pictured) defeat Legacy Gold who herself was third in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at the Festival.  

As a result of the additional novice hurdle at Thurles, the 2½m EBF Mares Hurdle (Grade 3) at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival will no longer be confined to first and second season mares, although it will continue to exclude Grade 1 winners.   

Two Mares races have been upgraded at the Punchestown Festival with the Glencarraig Lady EBF Handicap Steeplechase being awarded Grade B status, having previously achieved high ratings as a Grade C contest; and the Weatherbys Ireland EBF Mares Bumper being raised from Listed to Grade 3 status, which will mean its prize money growing from €40,000 to €50,000. In addition there will be no penalties in the Weatherbys Ireland EBF Mares Bumper, won this year by Augusta Kate owned by The Masters Syndicate (pictured above receiving their prizes) so that it can be run as a true ‘Champion Bumper’ for mares.   

In addition to the Black Type changes, there will be a further increase to the number of Mares only National Hunt races in the 2016/17 season, with a particular focus on Bumpers and Maiden Hurdles for younger mares to encourage their earlier participation. There will also be a series of higher value Mares Handicap Hurdles, the first of which was a €30,000 event in Ballinrobe in late May.  

Race Planning Manager HRI, Shane Doyle said: "The ongoing refinement and upgrading of the Mares National Hunt programme has had a positive impact, with the number of younger mares (5yo or less) running up 11% in the past twelve months compared to the previous year. Along with initiatives such as the ITBA National Hunt Fillies Bonus Scheme, this will hopefully be reflected in strong demand for fillies in the upcoming Goffs Land Rover and Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sales."