Will it be boom or bust for this year’s trio of Irish bankers at Cheltenham?
Willie Mullins trains all three of the Emerald Isle’s best backed fancies this year, which will be good news for patriotic punters across the diaspora – the Carlow handler has booted in 15 winners over the last three festivals.
Quevega – unbeaten in eight tilts at the 2m4f Mares Hurdle distance – has been the fairy godmother of the Irish gamble in recent years, winning the last four David Nicholson hurdles and she looks to be hardest to beat of their favourites again in 2013, with her closest rival needing to find 9lbs of improvement on official ratings.
The defection of leading rival at the prices, Dermot Weld’s Unaccompanied has seen her already skinny price shorten further.
For the last three winning years Willie Mullins has shunned a pre-festival prep-run for his wondermare, so as usual her fitness will have to be taken on trust. However, unlike last year there have so far been no fitness-concern rumblings from her yard.
Next shortest-priced of the Irish raiders is Hurricane Fly. Once again a lack of credible challenge at home – where he beat Thousand Stars for the eight and ninth time in their nine career meetings – means we have learnt nothing new from his three-race campaign, bar the fact that he should be fit for his Festival engagement.
Whether or not a single-race Festival-prep left him short of fitness when third in last year’s race, the suspicion remains that the unforgiving gallop served up to him by Rock On Ruby and Overturn on that occasion could be his undoing once more.
With the former (back to defend the crown he won last year) joined by stamina-packed contemporaries Zarkandar and Countrywide Flame, it’s likely the Fly will be running outside his comfort zone far earlier than he’d like.
Neptune Novice Hurdle favourite Pont Alexandre – a horse his trainer wanted “bought at any cost” – is third in the Mullins-trained Irish banker tryptic. Besting last time out winners by in excess of 10 lengths on both his starts in Ireland, he looks a serious beast and should be taken very seriously, representing as he does a yard who saddled the Neptune winners in 2009 and 2010.