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The Five Best Irish Hopes at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival
05/03/12

With just over a week to go, the anticipation surrounding the Cheltenham Festival is building and as always, a very strong Irish contingent will be making the trip over the Irish Sea to do battle with their British rivals. There is little doubt that the rain expected this week should aid the cause of the Irish Raider which means that there should be plenty for those making the trip from the Emerald Isle to cheer about. Here we look at the five most likely Irish winners.

Hurricane Fly
© racing-images.co.uk

Hurricane Fly

Leading the Irish charge is Champion Irish Trainer, Willie Mullins, who will be bringing thirty of his best horses over to Cheltenham. If punters are looking for Irish winners, they need not look too much further than the those from the Muine Bheag based stables in County Carlow. He won the Thomas Pink award for the first time last year, awarded to the trainer with the most winners over the four day meeting, saddling four winners, which brought his tally of Festival winners to 21. Two of those winners, Hurricane Fly and Quevega will be back in action again this year and bookmakers have made him favourite once again to be crowned top trainer at the Festival with most major firms rating him a hot 5/4 chance to repeat 2011's success in the Cheltenham Top Trainer odds.

 

Hurricane FlyChampion Hurdle (Trainer: Willie Mullins)

Reigning Champion Hurdler and odds on favourite to repeat that success again this year, this eight year old has not tasted defeat since November 2009. Mullins had expressed a few early season concerns about his stable star but he answered any questions by winning his only start so far this season when taking the Irish Champion Hurdle at the end of January in facile style and has to rate as a great chance of winning the first Championship race for a second year running.

Quevega
© racing-images.co.uk

Quevega
Quevega
David Nicholson Mares Hurdle
(Trainer: Willie Mullins)

Already a three time winner of the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle, Quevega looks unstoppable once again this season, although she has not raced since winning the Grade 1 World Series Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival last May, however she overcame a similar layoff between 2010 and last year and is proven to go well fresh. Mullins believes she will be even better this year and with little opposing her in the race, she looks "nailed on" to give Mullins a great chance of landing a double on day one.

 

Sizing Europe Ridden by Andrew Lynch jumping the second last fence to win the Boylesports.Com Tied Cottage Steeplechase from Big Zeb (Robert Power), 2nd.
© Caroline Norris

Sizing Europe
Sizing Europe
Champion Chase
(Trainer: Henry De Bromhead)

This could be a third Irish horse to repeat his Festival win of 12 months ago when he proved beyond any doubt that he is the best two mile chaser around. Old rival Big Zeb will be one of his biggest dangers but the manner in which Sizing Europe beat Big Zeb when the two met at Punchestown last month strongly suggests that he will have to fall to lose which explains his even money price to win the Queen Mother again.

 

Boston Bob
© Caroline Norris

Boston Bob
Boston Bob
Neptune Investment or Albert Bartlett Hurdle 3m
(Trainer: Willie Mullins)

There is no doubt that this seven year old, who is unbeaten after three starts over hurdles, has Mullins seriously excited about not just his chances this year at the Festival but also for the future. Mullins has yet to confirm which of the two races the Graham Wylie owned gelding will run in but he is bullish enough to suggest that he is capable of winning either. He is currently 6/1 to win the Albert Bartlett and 3/1 for the Neptune, which suggests the latter is probably his most likely target.

 

Steps To Freedom
© Caroline Norris

Steps To Freedom
Steps To Freedom
Supreme Novice Hurdle
(Trainer: Jessica Harrington)

A course and distance winner back in November, Steps To Freedom will come to the Festival fresh and with great stable confidence behind him. His win at Grade 2 level in November saw him beat several useful novices up the Cheltenham hill who have gone on to frank the form, including Prospect Wells and Ericht and he is currently a decent looking 7/1 to win the Festival curtain raiser.
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