Ruby Walsh believes "the wheel is starting to turn back to the British" and that those who think Ireland will again be rampant at this year’s Cheltenham Festival could be mistaken.
Irish-trained horses have enjoyed a stranglehold at the meeting in recent years. Last year they enjoyed a record 23 wins at the meeting and, 12 months before that, they enjoyed 17.
The success of the Irish at Prestbury Park 12 months ago even led to the Quality Jump Racing Review which was launched in May 2021 to, according to the British Horseracing Authority, “strengthen the performance of British jump racing at the top end of the pyramid.”
The review outlined five key aims including the importance of seeing Britain’s best horses running against each other outside of the Cheltenham Festival and to assess the need to reshape the jumps calendar in the UK to produce a more competitive race programme.
Once again, Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead wil be sending strong squads. Mullins has 13 of the 28 ante-post favourites for the meeting, while Elliott has leading hopes Pied Piper, American Mike and Galvin among his team.
De Bromhead has the defending champions in three of the meeting’s biggest events, Gold Cup hero Minella Indo, Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle and Champion Chase winner Put The Kettle On as part of his party, which also includes A Plus Tard and Bob Olinger.
However, speaking on Racing TV’s Road To Cheltenham, Walsh outlined a number of leading British hopes who he believes are more than capable of holding their own.
He said: "I just don’t think the top performers from the English challenge are as weak as some people would have you believe. The strength in depth is not where it was, but everything is cyclical and I don’t think the wins for Ireland last year will be the same this year.
“To get it back to where it was [British dominance in 2009/2010] will take a while to come back to that sort of form, but I do think the wheel is starting to turn back to the British. I think there will be more Irish winners at the meeting, but not such a big amount. There are good contenders for the British.
“I know the strength in depth at the meeting lies with the Irish. However, if the top British horses deliver, all of a sudden you have a fair swing regarding winners between the two countries.
🗣 "If the top English horses deliver..."— Racing TV (@RacingTV) February 24, 2022
Irish dominance at the Cheltenham Festival? Ruby believes the British have cause for optimism given the home team have number of leading contenders for some of the big races at this year's meeting#RoadToCheltenham | @paddypower pic.twitter.com/B53F06GDQo
“I’m not trying to be unpatriotic here, I’m being realistic. There are lot of English horses with chances. This might not be the green landslide that all of my fellow countrymen and women, who usually have rose-tinted spectacles on now have green goggles on too, expect."
Walsh, who rode 59 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, believes Constitution Hill and Jonbon in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, coupled with market leaders Edwardstone and Shishkin in the Arkle Novices’ Chase and Champion Chase merely serve to highlight the strength of the British team.
This is reinforced by the likes of Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase contender Bravemansgame and Albert Bartlett hope Stage Star.
Discussing the prospects for British-trained runners at this year’s meeting, Walsh said: “It starts off in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Dysart Dynamo and Sir Gerhard are two very good horses, but so are Constitution Hill and Jonbon. I don’t think anybody will fall off the stand at Cheltenham was Nicky Henderson to win the Supreme.
“Then you walk straight into the Arkle and Edwardstone sets the standard. You have several good horses, but Edwardstone is the rightful favourite and before you know where you are, it could be Great Britain 2-0 Ireland at the stage.
“In the Champion Hurdle, you’d think that would go to the Irish and who knows about the handicaps. You then get to the National Hunt Chase and Threeunderthrufive who hasn’t blown anyone away, but he keeps winning and looks like the type of horse with enough wins under his belt who only does enough and is therefore a challenger in it.
Turning his thoughts to day two, he said: “In the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, we don’t know what Willie Mullins will run, but we have Stage Star and Walking On Air who are two pretty decent novices for Britain. Stage Star won the Challow and Walking On Air was very impressive.
“You then have Bravemansgame and Ahoy Senor in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase. We then come to Shishkin in the Champion Chase."
Touching ion the second half of the meeting, he said: “In the Turners Novices’ Chase it would surprise me if L’Homme Presse beats Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger, but he does set a fair standard over here having won the Dipper and with Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch in form.
“The Stayers’ Hurdle looks wide-open. You have Flooring Porter and Klassical Dream for the Irish, but from the other side, you have Champ, Thyme Hill and Paisley Park.
“In the Mares’ Novice Hurdle, you then have Elle Est Belle who won the Sidney Banks on her last start at Huntingdon. That was over two and a half and dropping her back to two miles on the New Course will suit her, so she has a wonderful chance.
“In the Triumph Hurdle. Grand, we have Pied Piper, Vauban and Fil Dor, but the English have Doctor Parnassus and Porticello. I still think it will be a surprise, but the English still have live runners.
“In the Albert Bartlett, the favourite is Hillcrest. I wasn’t so sure based on his Haydock run, but his figures suggest he is a worthy favourite. Then in the Gold Cup, the best British challenge is with Protektorat. It would be a surprise but his run at Aintree was better than many suggest.
“In the Foxhunters’ Chase, you have Bob And Co who won at Punchestown and Porlock Bay who won this last year. Then Zambella and The Glancing Queen are solid performers for the Paddy Power Mares’ Chase.
“That is only picking those challengers out on betting and it doesn’t even take into account the handicaps."
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