Bookmakers hoping four Mullins favourites can’t all prevail

But it’s difficult to oppose any one of Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power

Annie Power with Ruby Walsh: Looks a class above the opposition in the OLBG Mares’ hurdle. Her stable companion Glens Melody poses perhaps the biggest threat. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Annie Power with Ruby Walsh: Looks a class above the opposition in the OLBG Mares’ hurdle. Her stable companion Glens Melody poses perhaps the biggest threat. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

A rare consensus about Day One of this year’s Cheltenham festival is that all four of Willie Mullins’s Grade One hotpots surely can’t win: and yet bookmakers predict the quartet of Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power will still become the most popular bet in racing history.

“It’s going to be the most popular accumulator bet we’ve ever known. If all four horses win we’ll never have known a day like it at Cheltenham. It could run to tens of millions,” a Ladbrokes spokesman said. “We’ll be desperate to see one of them beaten.”

The odds of such a four-timer happening are in the bookies favour although arguing against any one of four Mullins No.1 hopes is not easy. On their own merits, the ‘big four’ have rock-solid claims to win.

Un De Sceaux has been the shortest priced festival favourite ever since his Leopardstown rout last January and presents a ‘bar a fall’ dilemma in this afternoon’s Arkle that will test punter mettle.

Little margin

The temptation is to look for value elsewhere even though that could leave sceptics looking very embarrassed indeed as Un De Sceaux bounds up the famous hill.

The only thing preventing Annie Power from being even shorter for the OLBG is that she hasn’t run this season and is coming back from an injury sustained just before she was due to run in late-November’s Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse.

Not being seen all season didn’t prevent Quevega turning the newly-installed Grade One into an annual benefit over six years and home reports on Annie Power have been invariably positive.

She looks a class removed from this opposition. And since the best of that opposition looks to be her stable companion Glens Melody, it is very hard to look anywhere else.

It’s not just in the mares’ race that the bookies best hope of scuppering this big accumulator looks like coming from the Mullins team.

The champion trainer has made no secret of his regard for Douvan’s chance in the Supreme Novices Hurdle but he runs three others in the 12-runner opener which lacks depth. Douvan’s odds are a reflection of his reputation and visual impression, not the bare form of his last win at Punchestown where he beat a field of stayers around a sharp two-miles.

He boasts a very similar profile to last year’s Supreme winner Vautour and if he’s as good as connections think, will prevail. But there are enough unknowns about the favourite to make his stable companion Shaneshill a valid alternative.

Last year’s Champion Bumper runner-up hasn’t been seen since December but is back to two miles here and is proven both up the hill and in a battle. Mullins’s jockey arrangements encourage hope Shaneshill could be a touch of each-way value.

The overall strength of the Irish raiding party today can be emphasised by Very Wood in the four-miler. Noel Meade’s runner landed the Albert Bartlett in fine style last year and can reward a late switch to the longest race.

Paddy Brennan has picked Stellar Notion from Tom George’s two runners in the concluding handicap chase and this one’s previous course appearance could be worth forgiving.

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