Confidence is mounting among punters that Irish trainers will eclipse their British counterparts at next week’s Cheltenham festival with several bookmaking firms going odds on about the Irish contingent.
Formal recognition of the festival’s Anglo-Irish rivalry with the introduction of the Prestbury Cup in 2014 has coincided with an upsurge in fortunes for the visitors.
A dozen Irish-trained winners in 2014 was followed by 13 winners each for the following two years before a record 19 wins for the visitors in 2017.
That momentum continued a year later with Irish-based horses routing their cross-channel counterparts again 17 races to 11.
Home honour was saved with a 14-14 draw last year, but bookmakers believe normal service is set to be resumed with some firms going as short as 4-7 about the Irish in Prestbury Cup betting this time.
It is also odds on with Hills about the 2020 raiding party securing between 15 and 18 winners next week.
Those hopes are built primarily on the continuing dominance of Ireland's top two trainers, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
Between them they have won the festival's Leading Trainer Award for the last seven years. Bar the Irish pair Nicky Henderson was the last handler to win it in 2012.
After Elliott disrupted Mullins’s dominance in 2017 and 2018 his rival regained the crown last year. Mullins is a best-priced 11-10 to win it for a seventh time next week.
Henderson is again expected to be the bulwark of the home defence. But it is another Irish handler, Henry De Bromhead, who is as low as 6-1 to elbow his way into the argument.
Dual Grade One winner Notebook is favourite for the Racing Post Arkle on Day One when De Bromhead will have another prime championship fancy in the unbeaten star Honeysuckle.
She is prominent in the betting for both the Unibet Champion Hurdle and the Close Bros Mares Hurdle on the opening day.
The latter has been her proposed festival target for much of the season but that could mean a clash with Mullins’s star mare, Benie Des Dieux.
Taking the champion hurdle route would mean a drop back to two miles, a trip over which she narrowly won the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month.
“No decision has been taken. I think we just all need to sit down and talk to each other, myself, Kenny [Alexander, the owner] and Peter Molony [Alexander’s racing manager] and see what our thinking is. We haven’t really done that yet.
She’s great, all good and the plan is to run in one of them anyway!” De Bromhead said on Monday.
The Co Waterford trainer won twice at last year's festival and this time both A Plus Tard and Minella Indo are towards the top of the betting for the Ryanair Chase and the RSA Chase respectively.
They are part of a strong overall team that will attempt to add to De Bromhead’s seven previous festival victories.
Relegate for the Pertemps?
Colm Murphy’s last Cheltenham winner was Empire Of Dirt in the 2016 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate.
Shortly after that he handed in his trainer’s licence and began a career as a stewards secretary for the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.
However having returned to the training ranks last May the man who saddled Brave Inca to win the 2006 champion hurdle, and masterminded Big Zeb’s 2010 champion chase victory, will return to Cheltenham next week with a prime Pertemps Final contender in Relegate.
She won the champion bumper for Willie Mullins two years ago and returned to action for her new trainer with an encouraging run at Punchestown last month.
“She’s entered in a few races in Cheltenham but the Pertemps looks the race for her. We were delighted with her run in Punchestown. We’d had a few little stop-starts and it wasn’t ideal to be running her over three miles on heavy ground on her first run back, but we had to start somewhere and she ran a good race. We’ve been happy with her since and on the best of her form she doesn’t look badly handicapped obviously,” said the Gorey-based trainer.
Navan’s rescheduled Flyingbolt Chase programme goes ahead on Tuesday where the Grade Three feature may turn into a Mullins-Elliott clash. Elliott’s I’m A Game Changer has decent course and distance form but Cut The Mustard is twice a winner over fences already.