We Irish supporters would settle for 13 Irish-trained winners again this year, and you count: Hurricane Fly, Quevega, either Sizing Europe or Big Zeb. Three. We’ll win the Cross-Country and surely to God we’ll win the Bumper back this year. That’s five. Just eight out of the other 22 then? Easy peasy.
Noble Prince looks over-priced for the Ryanair Chase. There was probably a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to his defeat to Blazing Tempo in the Normans Grove Chase over two miles at Fairyhouse on his latest run in pushing him out from a low of 4/1 to a high of 7/1 for the Ryanair.
Blazing Tempo is a high-class mare and Noble Prince was competing over a trip that was well short of his best and on ground that was far softer than ideal, yet he still got to within three parts of a length of the mare, giving her 7lb.
Paul Nolan’s horse’s overall record screams that he is at his best over two and a half miles on good ground in the spring. In winning the Jewson Chase last year, he proved that he could operate at Cheltenham and under Festival conditions.
He beat an in-form Wishfull Thinking and clocked an identical comparative time as a novice to the time that Albertas Run clocked in winning the Ryanair Chase over more or less the same course and distance an hour later. He has been trained for the Ryanair since the start of the season.
The Willie Mullins-trained Boston Bob will be a big player in whichever of the novice hurdles he contests. The form of his defeat of Mount Benbulben, Ipsos Du Berlais and Jetson in the four-runner Grade-One Navan Hurdle in December could hardly have worked out better.
And he probably improved on that again when he gave 10lb and a sound beating to the talented Lyreen Legend and his highly-regarded stable companion Make Your Mark over two-and-a-half miles on heavy ground at Leopardstown’s Irish Champion Hurdle meeting in January.
The manner in which he stayed on there suggests that he would have no difficulty getting three miles, but he also has the pace for two-and-a-half.
He is a highly-talented individual who could make up into a serious steeplechaser, but he is already very good over hurdles, and it should pay to keep him on side wherever he runs at Cheltenham.
Mount Benbulben could go close in the Albert Bartlett, and his chance would be greatly enhanced if Boston Bob diverts to the Neptune. Always highly regarded and winner of the Grade-Two Monksfield Hurdle at Navan in November, Gordon Elliott’s horse made the running in that Navan Hurdle, which didn’t suit him.
He was out to his right at several of his obstacles and didn’t jump with any fluency, yet he still stayed on well to finish second to Boston Bob, with two subsequent winners behind him.
He will be much better ridden in behind, and the step up to three miles should be hugely in his favour.
Even in Last Instalment’s regrettable absence, Gigginstown House Stud could still hold the key to the RSA Chase, with First Lieutenant, Sir Des Champs, and even Bog Warrior all high-class possibles at the time of writing.
First Lieutenant’s chasing career hasn’t gone like clockwork thus far, but he hasn’t done too badly, and it is probable that we will see a different horse at Cheltenham, freshened up by Mouse Morris on his first run since Christmas, back on good ground, back at the scene of his Neptune Hurdle win last March.
The Irish assault on the curtain-raiser, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, is headed up by a trio classy recruits from the flat, Galileo’s Choice, Midnight Game and Steps To Freedom, all of whom go well on good ground and all of whom jump hurdles well.
This is a race that Irish trainers have farmed in recent years, winning eight of the past 13 renewals, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they made it nine from 14 and kicked the week off with a party.
DONN McCLEAN’s IRISH PICKS
Hurricane Fly (4/6) – Champion Hurdle
Quevega (4/9) – David Nicholson Mares Hurdle
Sizing Europe (10/11) or Big Zeb (4/1) – Champion Chase
Noble Prince (5/1) – Ryanair Chase
Boston Bob – Albert Bartlett (9/4) or Neptune Novices Hurdle (5/2)
Mount Benbulben – Albert Bartlett (5/1) or Neptune Novices Hurdle (20/1)
First Lieutenant (4/1), Sir Des Champs (7/2) – RSA Chase
Galileo’s Choice (6/1), Midnight Game (8/1) or Steps To Freedom (6/1) – Supreme Novices Hurdle
This article was written by Donn McClean for Close Up, the world’s best informed sports and betting magazine. Click here to get a FREE version of Close Up for your iPAD.