Mullins and Elliott v Henderson and Nicholls at Cheltenham

Horse Racing: Cheltenham Festival

How many winners will Willie Mullins come home with next week. Photo: Sportsfile.

How many winners will Willie Mullins come home with next week. Photo: Sportsfile.

The competition between horses trained in Ireland and those trained in the UK is at its most intense in a town deep in The Cotswolds in the middle week of March.

The Cheltenham Festival seems to get bigger with every passing year. Indeed, it sometimes seems every major race between November and March is only a trial for some race at the festival.

Irish trained horses, primarily those of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, have dominated recent festivals, but this year, I expect a strong backlash from British trainers Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. Perhaps Elliott and Mullins will match recent seasons and train up to fifteen winners combined: a more likely scenario is that the four trainers mentioned above will be responsible for close to twenty winners during the four days and these will be spread evenly amongst the four of them.

Irish Mares to Topple Buveur D’Air

Jockey Sam Twiston Davies has nominated Al Dancer in Tuesday’s opening race, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, as his banker of the week. If four-year-old Fakir D’Oudairies takes his place in the lineup, he will give the favourite plenty to think about. Willie Mullins often has a banker for this race and while none of his entries stand out this year, his selected of Aramon and Klassical Dream would warrant each way support.

In the second race of the meeting, the Arkle Chase, the absence of long time ante post favourite, Le Richebourg, has resulted in an open looking race. Defi Du Seuil may be given most to do by Lalor and Glen Forsa.

The Champion Hurdle is one of the most widely anticipated races of the week, with Irish mares Apple’s Jade and Laurina expected to thwart the hat-trick seeking Buveur D’Air. At odds of 20/1, Espoir D’Allen warrants a little each way support.

The selected from Willie Mullins stable should collect in the Mares Hurdle, with Benie Des Dieux the most likely winner.

The four mile NH Chase could be dominated by those highest in the betting, with a slight preference for Champagne Classic. Give me a Copper and Riders on the Storm are two to watch out for in Tuesday’s handicaps.

Tiger Roll and Altior for a Wednesday double

Wednesday’s highlight, The Queen Mother Champion Chase, sees Altior return to the festival seeking his fourth win in four outings. He will be very difficult to beat, with Min or Footpad likely to follow him home.

Another favourite expected to run well on Wednesday is Champ in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle. At the likely odds, I am happy to take him on with Battleoverdoyen.

The RSA chase may deliver another Irish trained winner with Delta Work the most likely to succeed. Tiger Roll looks a good bet in the Cross Country Chase, with Uradel a cracking each way bet in the Coral Cup.

Thursday opens with the JLT Novices Chase and the first two in the betting both have previous engagements earlier in the week. If Lostintranslation takes his place in the lineup, take the hint and have a few quid on.

Sire Du Berlais looks sure to run well in The Pertemps Network Final, though A Toi Phil and First Assignment cannot be ruled out

The selected of Willie Mullins entries, most likely Un De Sceaux, is fancied in the Ryanair Chase, with the likely dangers headed by Frodon and Road to Respect. Paisley Park is a strong fancy for The Stayers’ Hurdle, unless a rejuvenated Faugheen turns up on the day.

The Triumph Hurdle opens Friday’s card and Sir Erec will be hard to beat. However he will be a short priced favourite and makes little appeal at odds of even money. Wonder Laish has been very well backed for the County Hurdle and these connections rarely leave their money behind. Don’t rule out Vision Des Flos each way. If funds are running low at this stage, look no further than Battleoverdoyen in The Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle: he looks sure to be involved in the shake up.

The Gold Cup looks a three horse race this year and I expect Presenting Percy, Native River and Clan Des Obeaux to be the only ones that count as they face up to the second last. The class of Clan Des Obeaux against the staying power of Native River, or the weight of Galway expectation and money on Presenting Percy: take your pick, the heart says Percy but the head says Native River for a repeat victory, with Clan a real threat.

Bet of the Week: Luck Fifteen: Al Dancer, Delta Work, Tiger Roll and Lostintranslation.

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