Will Irish Eyes be Smiling? Best Cheltenham Hopes from Across the Water 08/03/11
In the build up to any Cheltenham Festival there is always plenty of talk surrounding the age old rivalry that has exists between the stables of Ireland against those in the UK.
Down the years, honours have been evenly split with racing fans on both sides of the Irish Sea able to brag about winning the bigger Festival races in recent years. The rivalry tends to concentrate on the Irish assault and bookies can expect a disastrous set of results should Irish eyes being smiling given the support runners from the Emerald Isle come in for. Virtually every race at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival boasts Irish runners, some whose form is better known than others and there will always remain an element of unknown quantities from the Irish who could be handicap good things or improving novices that become widespread racing tips on the day and inevitably good old fashioned gambles, some of which are sure to be landed during the course of the Festival’s 27 races.
Here we look at the pick of the Irish contingent in the Festival’s bigger races.
With very few opposing the favourite Cue Card to win this race, there are a number of Irish tipsters who have been marking the card of the Willie Mullins trained, Zaidpour. Despite disappointing in his last couple races he remains highly regarded by Mullins and will undoubtedly enjoy the switch to better ground and cannot be discounted in a race the Irish have won seven times in the past ten years.
The Irish have traditionally had a very good record in this race and have won it for the last two years, which is why they have a very good chance this year with the Noel Meade trained Realt Dubh. This seven year old is a dual Grade One winner over fences in Ireland and open to further improvement and looks the best chance of upsetting the leading British trained trio of Medermit, Ghizao and Finians Rainbow.
The feature race of day one promises to be one of the most exciting races of the entire Festival which sees several holding solid claims of winning. The principle contender from Ireland is Hurricane Fly who has been in terrific form this year for the Willie Mullins yard and is already a well supported joint second favourite in the antepost market and if the horse takes to the Cheltenham track on his first run in Britain he stands every chance of taking the Champion Hurdle back to Ireland for the first time since 2007.
Although not seen so far this season, Quevega is certainly the one to beat in the Mares Hurdle having won it for the last two years. Not a great price at around even money but the Irish banker of the Festival.
Jessica Harrington has high hopes for her Oscars Well in this competitive hurdle over 2 ½ miles, said to be the best novice hurdler in Ireland and has won two Grade One’s in succession it is one which many Irish pundits are claiming has a big chance.
A fantastic race is in prospect with Big Zeb from the Colm Murphy stable looking to retain his crown which he won in great style last year. However, it looks like he will have it all to do this time around, particularly with Master Minded apparently back to his best. There have also been plenty of positives regarding another Irish runner in the form of Henry De Bromhead’s Sizing Europe who has been in top form at home and will enjoy the ground at Cheltenham and could capitalise if the leading duo aren’t on song.
There are plenty in with chances in this cracking looking race and is another that could see an Irish winner, particularly if Tranquil Sea from the Edward O’Grady yard can get his act together. He has won both his starts this season and looks the pick of the Irish hopefuls in the race.
Dermot Weld does not send too many from his stable to Cheltenham, which is why his entry, Unaccompanied, should be noted for the curtain raiser on Gold Cup day. Winner of a Grade One Juvenile last time out, this youngster is highly rated by the stable and has every chance and fits the profile of an improving Irish novice that could be anything.
It is very difficult to see an Irish winner of the Festival’s feature race this year, but one that does have a chance is the Willie Mullins entry, Kempes who will have AP McCoy aboard. This eight year can go on any ground and looked in great form last time when winning the Irish Hennessey Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month but in what looks a mightily tough renewal, the Irish wait for their first winner since War of Attrition in 2006 could go on.
Irish bookmaker, Boylesports, has set the spread on the number of Irish winners at this year’s Festival at six, offering 6/5 each of two that it will be either over or under this number whilst Blue Square are offering odds of 13/2 that the Irish have nine or more winners across the four days.
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