Sunday 23 April 2017

Buoyant Elliott team set to bury rivals with Tombstone

Gordon Elliott can strike again with Tombstone today. Photo: Caroline Norris
Gordon Elliott can strike again with Tombstone today. Photo: Caroline Norris

Thomas Weeks

Irish-trained runners account for 51 of the 124 horses in action at Cheltenham today and while the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase sees just two Irish imports in a field of 10, it does see Willie Mullins' deadly Douvan bid to extend his unbeaten record to 15 consecutive wins in the Grade One highlight.

Douvan's only defeat was on his French debut in May 2014 but he has since won 14 races, eight of which have been at the top level including two consecutive wins at the Cheltenham Festival.

Douvan faces nine rivals and while Special Tiara is the only other Irish raider, Henry de Bromhead's 10-year-old has filled third place in the last two renewals of this race.

Colin Tizzard's Fox Norton, currently second-favourite, bids to win for De Bromhead's old allies Ann and Alan Potts, who previously won this same race with De Bromhead's Sizing Europe.

Douvan is one of 14 Mullins runners with Ireland's champion trainer sending out four runners in the open-looking Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle. Mullins' Bacardys heads his hopes in the race, with Ruby Walsh siding with him over Bon Papa, Kemboy and Livelovelaugh.

Indeed, 'Team Mullins' has a connection with likely favourite Neon Wolf, for trainer Harry Fry, as Patrick Mullins steered that gelding to an Irish point-to-point win last March, when in the care of Mags Mullins.

Mullins throws five darts at the Coral Cup, where Irish runners account for half the 26 runners. Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud resisted the temptation to send Tombstone for the Champion Hurdle and last season's Supreme Novices' fourth could have a big say from a rating of 149.

The Irish predictably dominate the 16-runner Glenfarclas Chase Cross Country Chase with JP McManus owning half of the 10 Irish-trained runners. McManus and trainer Enda Bolger farmed the race at the turn of the century but have failed to have the first-past-the-post since 2009.

The pair were technically successful in 2016 through Josies Orders' subsequent promotion following Any Currency's unfortunate failed blood test, but will be hoping for glory with course-and-distance winner Cantlow and former smart chasers Auvergnat and Quantitativeeasing.

Fierce-Looking

McManus also runs Festival hero Cause Of Causes, successful in both the 2015 National Hunt Chase and 2016 Kim Muir Chase.

The concluding Weatherbys Champion Bumper is another typically fierce-looking contest and Elliott's Fayonagh is one of two mares in the contest bidding to become the third member of the fairer sex to win since its 1992 inception.

Fayonagh routed her rivals when winning at Fairyhouse last month and would appear to hold sound claims in a race where Mullins' Carter Mckay bids to compete a bumper hat-trick following impressive wins at Leopardstown and Naas recently.

Selections

1.30 Bacardys,

2.50 Tombstone

3.30 Douvan

4.10 Cantlow

5.30 Fayonagh

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