By Johnny Ward at Cheltenham
The Irish journalists arrived a day early and took over the press room at Cheltenham yesterday, ready for action and consistent with overwhelming expectation of celebrating the glory of compatriots this week.
Willie Mullins comes to the Cotswolds with three of his aces: Faugheen, Yorkhill and Douvan, albeit with major doubts about them individually.
By contrast, Gordon Elliott’s team has fewer questions to answer, and I am banking on the pretender to the Irish training crown having a big say on day one.
Willie Mullins’ hotpot here, Getabird, looks to have an improved chance now the rain has come, as he relished the heavy terrain at Punchestown and has been pretty fragile, so he may not want an especially quick test.
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He clearly has a great deal of ability but there is a nagging doubt about him going left-handed. He has never done so before under Rules (ran out in a point-to-point when going right-handed) and seemed to edge right last time.
Mengli Khan can narrow the gap, yet he would probably have been better without the snow and the rain too.
A chance at a fancy price is taken on Debuchet, bidding to win his first hurdle race in rather exalted company.
I have huge faith in Mags Mullins, and feel that last year’s Champion Bumper runner-up is not coming here unless she gives him a realistic chance of going close.
He had Claimantakinforgan and Next Destination in arrears then and he is coming to hand, to judge from his pleasing effort behind Samcro last time. He is no hopeless case and could make the speed.
Benie Des Dieux looks the only conceivable danger to Apple’s Jade here and it would be surprising if she were up to the task.
Firstly, going back hurdling in this company after going down the chase route is clearly asking a great deal; secondly, she was far from impressive at Naas, even in victory. That said, she has perhaps not reached the ceiling ability-wise.
However, the one to back in the market without the jolly is not the Closutton runner but Jer's Girl.
She was 14-1 in this race last year when having to deal with Limini, Vroum Vroum Mag and Apple’s Jade, none of which now count in this market.
Gavin Cromwell has been really pleased with her, one of the few Grade One winners in the field. She had a horrible tumble in the race last year but was far from out of contention for the places when that happened. Soft terrain suits.
Gordon Elliott is hardly expecting to replicate his opening-day treble of 2017 but he can achieve that here in the form of Davy Russell’s mount, who signed off his hurdling career by finishing in the money in a senior Grade One at the Punchestown Festival.
Since a fine second on chasing debut to Presenting Percy, he has consistently dropped in trip, presumably with a view to preserving his mark and getting him jumping at speed.
He is an excellent conveyance at a fence and I do not subscribe to the notion that he is ungenuine. Clearly this has been the plan all season and I cannot but see him run strong.
Any Second Now is a maiden coming here. He has gained crucial experience in Grade One class behind Footpad, though he can be a little careful over his fences and stamina is a concern. That said, he can go close.
The Irish Angle with Johnny Ward:
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