There will be lots of Irish-trained runners at the 2017 Cheltenham festival, we look at Ten Leading Irish Contenders For Cheltenham.
1. Melon – Supreme Novices Hurdle – Tuesday
2. Petit Mouchoir – Stan James Champion Hurdle – Tuesday
3. Apple’s Jade – OLBG Mares Hurdle – Tuesday
4. Carter McKay – Weatherbys Champion Bumper – Wednesday
5. Yorkhill – JLT Novice Chase – Thursday
6. Douvan – Betway Champion Chase – Wednesday
7. Djakadam – Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup – Friday
8. Outlander – Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup – Friday
9. Death Duty – Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle – Friday
10. On The Fringe – St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup – Friday ********************************************************************************** Melon – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Tuesday Melon was a winner on the Flat in France in the summer of 2015 and he made a hugely impressive debut over hurdles for Willie Mullins at Leopardstown at Christmas. On the back of that performance, he became the clear favourite for opening race of the Festival, the Supreme Novices Hurdle. It will be a big ask for a horse with just one run over hurdles to win at Cheltenham but he was such a taking winner at Leopardstown that he will be an opening day ‘banker bet’ for many.
Petit Mouchoir – Stan James Champion Hurdle – Tuesday With a number of notable absentees, namely Faugheen and Annie Power, the last two winners of the race, the Irish assault on the Stan James Champion Hurdle is not what it might have been. However, with Petit Mouchoir, Henry de Bromhead looks to have an outstanding opportunity in the opening day highlight. A strong front-runner, the six-yearold won the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas and followed up when taking the Grade 1 BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at the same track in January.
Apple’s Jade – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – Tuesday Willie Mullins has won the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle for the last eight years and the Irish challenge for the race looks particularly strong again this time. The Gordon Elliott-trained Apple’s Jade was one of the leading four-year-old hurdlers last year and looks to head the raiding party after her narrow defeat of last year’s winner of this race, Vroum Vroum Mag, in the Grade 1 Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse at the beginning of December.
Carter McKay – Weatherbys Champion Bumper – Wednesday Carter McKay made a successful debut at Leopardstown’s Christmas festival and followed up in hugely promising fashion when beating the promising West Coast Time to win at Naas in mid-February. The form of his Leopardstown victory has worked out well and he was certainly value for more than the winning margin at Naas. Willie Mullins’ sixyear-old heads to Cheltenham with a favourite’s chance in the bumper, the final race on Wednesday.
Yorkhill – JLT Novices’ Chase – Thursday Successful in the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival last year, Yorkhill returns as the early favourite for the JLT Novices’ Chase on the back of comfortable wins over fences at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown. He was a long odds-on favourite for both of those races and will certainly face stiffer opposition at Cheltenham but he is a top-class prospect and is sure to be another very well-fancied Willie Mullins contender.
Douvan – Betway Champion Chase – Wednesday Douvan is unbeaten in a remarkable 14 starts since joining Willie Mullins from France and heads to the Cheltenham as the shortest-priced favourite for any of the 28 festival races. He won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2015 and last year was a most impressive when taking the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase. He continues to go from strength to strength and on the evidence of recent wins at Cork, Leopardstown and Punchestown, very few will be betting against him notching up his third Cheltenham Festival success in the Betway Champion Chase on Wednesday.
Djakadam – Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup – Friday Runner-up in the race to Coneygree in 2015 and Don Cossack last year, Djakadam was the impressive winner of the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase on his seasonal return at Punchestown in December where he beat Outlander to win for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. While he finished a close third to that same rival in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, his record at Cheltenham will ensure that he travels to this year’s festival as the leading Irish challenger for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Outlander – Timico Gold Cup – Friday On the back of strong early season form, Outlander went to the Cheltenham Festival as a leading contender for the JLT Novices’ Chase last year and was still very much in contention when falling four fences from home. He has run well on a number of occasions since and gained a second Grade 1 success when landing the Lexus Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas festival. His presence certainly adds to the Irish challenge in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, a race his trainer, Gordon Elliott, is bidding to win for the second successive year after Don Cossack’s triumph in 2016.
Death Duty – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Friday While he has a choice of engagements at the Cheltenham Festival, it is likely that Death Duty will be aimed for the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle on Friday. A leading bumper performer of last season, Gordon Elliott’s six-year-old is unbeaten in four starts over hurdles and his victory in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas in early January arguably makes him the leading Irish novice hurdler.
On The Fringe – St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup – Friday On The Fringe is the outstanding hunter chaser in Ireland or Britain and Enda Bolger’s star performer is seeking an unprecedented third success in the St. James´s Place Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup on the final day of the Festival. He won the big hunters’ chases at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown in 2015 and again last year and will be a popular choice to do so again after a hugely promising seasonal return when runner-up to Foxrock in the Leopardstown Inn Hunters Chase at Leopardstown in mid-February.