How successful will the Irish be is one of the biggest questions ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and there are reasons to believe this year will be full of more disappointment than celebration, despite a team that includes Hurricane Fly, Sir Des Champs and Monksland.
Looking back at the last eight years since the Festival was extended to four days, Ireland have been inconsistent in terms of winners, having seven winners or less on four occasions and eight or more in the others.
Repeating their vast success of 13 winners in 2011 definitely looks out of the question, but it is 1/1 that they celebrate a minimum of nine victories this time.
However, preference is for the 8/11 that they only enjoy eight triumphs or fewer.
How well Willie Mullins fares will have a large impact in this market given the strength of his team and he is second favourite at 6/4 to be the top Cheltenham trainer this year behind Nicky Henderson.
The problem here is that Mullins has never trained more than four winners at a single Festival, although this was enough to land the top trainer accolade for the only time in 2011.
Victories for Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle and Quevega in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival would be good news for Mullins and Ireland, but the former does have stern competition to regain his title.
It is 5/4 that Hurricane Fly claims the Champion Hurdle, but punters fancying the favourite would be better accepting the same price on an Irish-trained winner of the race, with the likes of Cause of Causes, Thousand Stars and Zaidpour among the other entries.
Mullins’ other leading candidates look to be Quevega to complete a five-timer in her race at 2/5, which seems the big Irish banker of the week, and Pont Alexandre in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at 2/1.
Away from Mullins, the Irish charge is led by Monksland (6/1 for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle), Sir Des Champs (4/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup) and Our Conor (4/1 for the Triumph Hurdle).
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.