Mullins: Raiders' struggle a shock

Cormc Byrne

THE Festival has been an unmitigated disaster for the Irish with our bankers pummelled and our only two victories thus far coming in minor races.

Our sure things Hurricane Fly and Sizing Europe have had their flags lowered and promising outsiders have failed to even get into contention.

Champagne Fever and Quevega, our only winners, were trained by Willie Mullins and he is dismayed at how badly the Irish are faring just 12 months after recording our greatest ever performance at the Cotswolds.

"I mean I'm sort of disappointed with the way things are going, but when you take a general view we're having a wonderful Cheltenham compared to the Irish team," he said.

"People think we have a big team coming over here and people expect us to have four, five or six winners but I know how hard it is to get into this winner's enclosure.

"It's very hard, takes a lot of horse and a lot of bravery on the jockey's part so once a day will do me. Our horses have been running a bit in and out and people were probably just drifting away from us."

Our lone chance in tomorrow's blue-riband event is Quel Esprit.

While he has more than proved that he is the finest three-mile chaser in Ireland, the bookmakers make him a 14/1 shot behind six of his British rivals but Mullins believes anything can happen.

"He seems to be fine, so I'm happy and I think he can place. I think it would be too much to ask him to do any more than that," he said. "You never know, with racing anything can happen." Another intriguing Irish runner will be Jessica Harrington's Citizenship.

The gelding will bid for a €100,000 Boylesports bonus in the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle once their anxious wait to see if the horse is balloted out or not is over.

"I hope he gets in. It is a little bit touch and go at the minute," Harrington told the Herald. "He is going for the bonus and has a great chance."

Another possible Irish winner is On the Fringe for Enda Bolger who will be the mount of John Thomas McNamara, already a winner this week on Teaforthree on Tuesday.

Willie Mullins' Boston Bob could be Ireland's only pre-race favourite tomorrow. Likely to go off at around 6/4 in the 2.40, desperate punters will be hoping that this banker brings them at least one heavily backed Irish winner.