Ever since the Cheltenham Festival first originated back in 1860, this stellar event has been dominated by Irish-trained horses. This is a trend that looks set to continue in 2017, with the latest instalment already underway and a number of prominent Irish trainers in the hunt for success.
We will see a slight change to the status quo this year, however, with Irish trainers set to provide a level of strength-in-depth that includes five or six exceptionally talented operators. So while one or two are poised to dominate the major race cards as usual, there are now others who may well be celebrating come Friday evening.
The Big Two and Beyond: Who Will Spearhead the Irish Charge?
As this recent podcast from My Racing confirms, there are two Irish trainers who stand out from their rivals. These are the experienced Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, who are set to field 40 and 30 runners respectively (out of an event total of around 450) and dominate the major race cards.
They are not alone, however, with several other Irish trainers primed for success this time around. Take Henry de Bromhead, for example, who has form at the Cheltenham Festival having seen Sizing Australia take the Cross-Country Chase title back in 2011. He also has the advantage of fielding several fancied horses in 2017, with Petit Mouchoir one of the initial favourites to win the Champion Hurdle after his superb victory at the Ryanair Hurdle in Leopardstown. The Irishman also boasts healthy numbers too, as while his stable may be dwarfed by Mullins he has strength and depth aplenty across all of the major racecards.
Next up is Jessica Harrington, who hit the headlines previously for taking the difficult decision to withdraw Our Duke from contention due to potential injury concerns. Despite this, Harrington has brought a strong stable to Cheltenham, with Sizing John a serious contender to win the coveted Gold Cup and the high-profile Jezki boasting a 2014 Champions Hurdle win in his resume. Despite being sidelined since, he is a performer for the big races and cannot be discounted this time around.
Honourable Mentions: Which Other Irish Trainers Can Steal the Show at Cheltenham?
There should also be an honourable mention for Pat Kelly, as while he may lack the numbers of his rivals he has two excellent chances of winning big at the Festival. The most prominent of these is Mall Dini, an although he will compete in two stellar handicaps he is best placed to prevail in the National Hunt Chase. If he runs to form, there is every chance that he could secure Kelly a prestigious win ahead of some of more illustrious rivals.
Mouse Morris also has an excellent chance of securing his first Cheltenham Festival win as a trainer in 34 years, with Alpha Des Obeaux one of the favourites to prevail in the RSA Chase. This would represent one of the largest ever gaps between victories, while it is the sort of narrative that will help Cheltenham to thrive in the wake of so many withdrawals and enforced absences. You should also keep your eyes peeled for the Morris-trained Saddler Maker in the Stayers’ Hurdle, as his second place finish last year suggests that he can profit from Thistlecrack’s absence this time around.