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With just five weeks between now and the Cheltenham Festival, the Irish – or at least Willie Mullins – have flexed their muscles at the Dublin Racing Festival and the gauntlet has been laid down.
While the Prestbury Cup may be more symbolic of a friendly, tongue-in-cheek relationship between trainers on opposite sides of the Irish Sea, Irish trainers provided 17 of the 28 winners last season.
French trainer David Cottin took the Cross-Country gong back to France after Easysland ran out an impressive winner, which left GB trainers in the winners enclosure on 10 occassions.
Here’s 5 Irish trainers who’ll be leading the charge again, if past form is anything to go by.
1. Willie Mullins
Well, you didn’t really expect us to start anywhere else, did you? WPM himself has been known to have a success or two around the Cotswolds, having 72 Festival winners to his name.
It seems a long time ago since Tourist Attraction won the Supreme for the Carlow-based trainer back in 1995, and given he’s won four of the last eight renewals of the Cheltenham opener, it’s no surprise to see him have Sunday’s impressive winner Appreciate It at the head of the market again this year.
His seven winners at Cheltenham last year were his joint-most since snatching eight in 2015. He’s showing no signs of slowing down, and this year, he holds one of the top two in the ante-post betting for every Grade One Chase at the Festival, including Chacun Pour Soi in the Champion Chase – who, amazingly, is looking to give him his first success in the Wednesday feature of the four-day fiesta.
2. Gordon Elliott
If Willie Mullins is the flashy sort, Gordon Elliott is the jack of all trades – winning Grade Ones consistently but having a runner prominent in the betting heats of every handicap at the Festival to go along with it.
While there’s no doubt that Envoi Allen will be the stable star he brings to Gloucestershire, Elliott saddled seven winners, seven seconds and four third-place finishers at the Festival in 20202. These ranged from Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices Hurdle to Sire Du Beralis chinning stablemate The Storyteller for back-to-back Pertemps Final victories.
He can probably count himself unlucky not have his eighth winner too when Column of Fire who traded a short price in-running during the Martin Pipe fell at the last.
Envoi Allen possesses the household-name tag in the Grade Ones but with the ante-post favourite for Friday’s Triumph Hurdle in Zanahiyr and Sir Gerhard just behind Kilcruit in the Champion bumper betting, that could easily change.
Either way, Gordon’s never too far away from multiple Cheltenham winners.
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3. Henry De Bromhead
Of course you should start with the obvious headline act in Honeysuckle after Saturday’s Irish Champion Hurdle win, but Henry is far from a one-trick pony, as it were.
Henry also has the potentially high-class Bob Olinger who will likely line out in the Ballymore, as well as 41 others entered in Festival races at this stage. Captain Guinness will go off a big price in the Arkle but he was running a blinding race in the Arkle trial at Leopardstown before coming down two out.
Even if Honeysuckle did swerve the Champion Hurdle, De Bromhead’s got the 160-rated Aspire Tower to tackle a wide-open renewal as well as second favourite A Plus Tard for a likely Gold Cup tilt – as well as Minella Indo and last year’s fouth Monalee, in the Friday feature, too.
While perhaps the biggest individual successes of his career came with Sizing Europe and Special Tiara, the Waterford trainer saddled five horses to finish in the top three at least year’s Festival – all of them Grade Ones.
Given the formidable team he’s assembled for 2021, don’t be surprised to see more exponential growth this time ‘round.
4. Joseph O’Brien
Listen, Joseph was born about six months after I was – and he’s bringing horses to Cheltenham while I can barely bring myself to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.
The young man’s equine career to this point has been nothing short of clinical, but he’s starting to carry expectation in National Hunt and there’s a real sense that in a handful of short years, he could carve his way into the top table.
He didn’t land a Cheltenham winner in 2020, but Fakir D’oudairies went off at a hot 3/1 for the Arkle Chase before finishing second to Put the Kettle On. You might be forgiven for thinking, because of his background, Joseph may only want to deal with highly-promising flat graduates, but 18 of his last 38 Cheltenham runners have come in handicaps to varying degrees of success.
Early Doors and Band of Outlaws have already proven he knows when he got some ammo to attack with and with JP McManus a big endorse of the young master’s talents, he’ll have plenty more up his sleeve.
Right now he’s got 18 entries in nine Grade Ones at the Fesitval, headlined by Fakir D’oudairies who likely goes after the Champion Chase following a solid prep behind the red-hot Chacun Pour Soi on Saturday. Meanwhile, promising novice Keskonrisk may tackle the 2m 5f Ballymore Hurdle after looking outpaced when finishing third to Supreme favourite Appreciate It back in December.
5. Gavin Cromwell
It’s easy to forget Gavin Cromwell, unassuming and workmanlike in his approach. At least it was easy to forget him until Espoir D’allen absolutely hosed up in the 2019 Champion Hurdle.
Darver Star was a good third in last year’s renewal too – and while Alfa Mix’s and War Theatre’s seventh-placed finishes don’t read much on paper – their runs in the Coral and Juvenile Handicap were better than the bare results suggested. Darver Star will go the Festival again, but as of now, your guess for where is as good as anyone’s, with signs that he’d suit both the Arkle and the Marsh.
Cromwell may have to rethink plans for Gabynako who finished mid-div to Drop the Anchor on Saturday in his first handicap hurdle, but the star of the fleet is clearly Flooring Porter who should line up in the Paddy Powers Stayers Hurdle on the Thursday.
This son of Yeats certainly holds the stamina and clearly enjoys getting his toe into the soft ground.
Vanillier rounds out a group of horses that may cause a shock or two in five weeks’ time. Cromwell hasn’t had a runner at Cheltenham go off at shorter than 13/2 in any of his last three visits to the Festival, so don’t be put off by the price.
Cheltenham Festival 2021
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