Sometimes us Irish can head into the Cheltenham Festival with the most tinted of tricolour glasses, something that can cost a few quid by the end of the week, or on other occasions pay dividends.
However, two men that receive and deserve the utmost respect at the Cheltenham Festival are the English duo of Alan King and Robert Thornton -- especially when they combine as a partnership.
Thornton is arguably one of the best riders around the track, especially on the big occasion, on the big day, while Alan King has saddled 11 winners at the Festival since 2004, nine of which were ridden by Thornton. And this week King went through some of his main hopefuls for next month's epic meeting.
Despite last year's winner Old Crick continuing his good record, that victory came in the last race of the week and followed four seconds and three thirds on the four days.
King said: "You can always cope when they are running as well as they were. The one niggle was Medermit, who I did think was very unlucky in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Choc (Robert Thornton) and I looked at each other and I said: 'I hope this does not set the trend.'
"It nearly did, with Old Crick getting us out of trouble in the final race."
This year Medermit was again earmarked by the trainer as one of his best chances for the week, along with Bensalem, The Betchworth Kid (pictured below left) and Mille Chief.
An Irish point-to-point winner. A dirty scope ruled him out of last year's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Festival, but he returned to Cheltenham for the April Meeting to take a novices' hurdle by eight lengths.
Bensalem started his chasing career with a rallying half-length victory over Kangaroo Court in a novices' chase at Plumpton, and he produced another good effort on his next appearance in a similar contest at Exeter, when going down by two lengths to Take The Breeze.
Sent up to Haydock for the two and a half mile Grade Two Altcar Novices' Chase on January 23, he was in the process of running a big race when taking a crashing fall three fences out, leaving Diamond Harry to record a 16-length victory.
Bensalem took on Diamond Harry for the third time in his career as the pair lined up for a Newbury novices' chase over three miles on February 13, but another blunder at the fifth last cost Bensalem and he could not get on terms with the Nick Williams-trained chaser, going down by two lengths in second.
He is entered in the RSA Chase and will be put in the William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase, which is his most likely target at the Festival.
A 68-rated maiden on the Flat for trainer Mark Johnston, Causeway King had three runs on the level for me before being switched to hurdles for the start of the current season.
He made a promising start over the smaller obstacles when running on strongly to take a novices' hurdle at Warwick.
He has since gone on to be second on all three of his subsequent appearances, beginning with a 10-length defeat by JCB Triumph Hurdle contender Westlin' Winds at Hereford. He found Barwell Bridge six lengths too strong at Ffos Las and went down by two lengths to Ozare at Fontwell when he looked like giving the winner a tough race before making an error at the final flight.
His likely race at the Festival is the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Formerly trained by Jehan Bertran de Balanda, Chamirey ran some good races over hurdles and fences before leaving France in 2008, including when coming second in a Grade Three hurdle and taking seventh in the French Triumph Hurdle, the Grade One Prix Renaud du Vivier.
He joined for the start of the current campaign, having spent last winter at Robert Ogden's Sickling Hall Stud and was runner-up on his British debut behind current Albert Bartlett Novices' hurdle favourite Tell Massini in a maiden hurdle at Chepstow in October.
Chamirey opened his account over hurdles with a staying-on victory at Uttoxeter in November and was runner-up to Lord Generous on his next appearance in a Southwell novices' hurdle.
On his latest start, Chamirey claimed the notable scalp of Grand National favourite and Festival winner Tricky Trickster in a novices' hurdle at Fontwell as he stayed on stoutly to record a four and a half length verdict over the subsequent Grade Two Aon Chase winner. He was third at Haydock on Saturday and now goes for the Pertemps Final.
Karabak is currently second favourite for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle after running two excellent races so far this season. He returned to action over two and a half miles in the Grade Two Ascot Hurdle on November 21, when he was the only horse who could serve up any sort of challenge to Zaynar in the home straight, eventually going down by six lengths as the pair pulled clear of the rest of the field.
On his final appearance prior to the Festival, Karabak stepped up to an extended three miles as he took on the current Ladbrokes World Hurdle champion Big Buck's in the rearranged Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Newbury on December 29. Held up towards the rear, Karabak made stealthy headway to dispute the lead with two flights left but could not get on terms with the Paul Nicholls-trained champion, who recorded a sixth consecutive success with a three and a half length verdict.
He will go for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival.
A former Champion Hurdle winner, last season he was winless in five outings, although he ran well in defeat when a close sixth, beaten under six lengths behind Punjabi, when attempting a second victory in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle.
He has had three outings this season, finishing in the frame in all of them, and stepped up to three miles for the first time on his latest start when third behind Tidal Bay in the Grade Two Betfair Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day.
He too is being aimed at the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival.
A full brother to My Petra -- a Grade Two winner over fences -- Lake Legend gained his first success when taking a Kempton bumper by seven lengths in March 2008.
He made a winning debut over hurdles at Huntingdon that November, beating subsequent Grade One scorer Ogee by a length and a quarter.
After coming second in a Leicester novices' hurdle later the same month, Lake Legend got back to winning ways with a comfortable victory at Doncaster at the end of February 2009, but a slight problem ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
He was pulled up on his seasonal return in a Pertemps qualifier at Kempton on November 2 but has been victorious in handicap hurdles on both his subsequent starts, beating Cantabilly by three lengths at Taunton and edging out Erzen by a neck at Kempton on December 26.
His target at the Festival is the Coral Cup.
Manyriverstocross enjoyed a profitable career on the Flat prior to a switch to hurdling this season. In 14 starts on the level, the five-year-old won twice, including a 14-furlong handicap at Glorious Goodwood.
He made his debut over obstacles in a maiden hurdle at Chepstow in November, which he took by eight lengths, although he failed to build on that promising debut 16 days later when coming home third under a penalty behind Inventor in an Ascot introductory hurdle.
Stepped up to two and a half miles for the first time, Manyriverstocross bounced back with an excellent victory on his next appearance in the Grade Two Winter Novices' Hurdle at Sandown, when he quickened well to beat Like Minded by two and three-quarter lengths.
Manyriverstocross stepped up to Grade One company to contest the Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury on December 29, but he failed to make any impression on the principals and faded to come home seventh behind Reve De Sivola.
He returned to the Berkshire course in February and posted a much better effort on his handicap debut in the Grade Three totesport Trophy Hurdle as he stayed on well in the closing stages to take third behind another progressive novice, Get Me Out Of Here.
He is entered in the Spinal Research Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, with the latter being the preference at the moment.
I couldn't be more pleased with Medermit -- it is just trying to keep a lid on him at the moment. He is very fresh and well. I am happy with him.
We were going novice chasing with him at the beginning of the season. He was schooled and was very good. We decided to run him in the Greatwood Hurdle and then the Bula (the Boylesports.com International Hurdle), both at Cheltenham, and he ran very well so we decided to wait on the novice chasing. I am glad we did now. I must admit to being very surprised with the way he has progressed. Each run he has improved -- the handicapper has put him up to 166 now.
He was a slightly narrow horse, but has done extremely well and has come on again since his run at Haydock. The Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year was a much better race than we all thought at the time.
All things being equal, I would like to run Mille Chief again because he has only had the three runs. His work recently has been very, very good.
I do think he is as good a juvenile as I have trained, but he has got to do it on the track. He has always enjoyed jumping. I scoped him last week and he was fine. I would be a bit concerned about his stamina if it came up heavy at Cheltenham.
Is now ante-post favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival.
Nenuphar Collonges gained the biggest success of his career to date at the Festival in 2008 when taking in the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, and he went on to be fourth in the Grade One Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree the following month.
After failing to land a blow in the Grade One Gras Savoye Prix La Barka at Auteuil, France, in May 2008, he returned to chasing, recording a two-length success in a handicap chase at Bangor in November 2008. He went on to run well in some of the season's top staying handicap chases, taking seventh in the Welsh National, sixth in the Haydock Park Gold Cup and coming third behind Wichita Lineman in the Grade Three William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase at the Festival -- a race he will tackle again this year.
He has continued to run in the leading handicap chases this season. He was fourth in a valuable contest at Punchestown in May and took seventh in the Listed Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase at Wincanton.
On his latest start, he was far from disgraced when coming home ninth behind the mighty Denman in the Grade Three Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on November 28.
Oh Crick started this season at Exeter in November as he came fifth in the Grade Two Haldon Gold Cup, and he produced a better effort to take third behind Twist Magic and Petit Robin in the Grade One Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot on January 23. He was fourth on Saturday in the Betfair Ascot Chase.
It will be the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase, depending on the relative strengths of each race.
Since joining, he is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles. At Newbury on December 16 he was the comfortable six-length winner of a maiden hurdle over an extended two miles and he maintained his 100pc record when scoring in a two-mile novice event at Plumpton in January.
He is going for the Spinal Research Novices' Hurdle or the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle at the Festival after hopefully running at Kempton on Saturday.
His best efforts of last season came in the Grade Two Adonis Juvenile Novices' Hurdle at Kempton, in which he was the five-length second to Hebridean, and when coming third behind Silk Affair in the Grade Three Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle at the Festival.
Saticon returned to Cheltenham for his first start of this season but failed to run his race when coming last behind Starluck in the sportingbet.com Hurdle at The Open. He was running a much better race in a handicap hurdle at Doncaster, which was voided due to a stricken horse at the penultimate flight. But he posted his best performance of the season at the Yorkshire course on February 6, when taking fourth in another handicap hurdle behind stable companion Sir Harry Ormesher.
Both horses are set to re-oppose at the Festival in the Grade Three Coral Cup.
Sir Harry Ormesher
Sent over fences last season, Sir Harry Ormesher landed a beginners' chase at Exeter in October 2008, beating the likes of Straw Bear and Pasco, but could only finish fourth to Breedsbreeze on his next outing in the Grade Two Rising Stars Novices' Chase at Wincanton the following month. He was subsequently found to have injured a hind joint and missed the rest of the season.
He started this season over fences, falling at the final fence when beaten in a graduation chase at Kempton, but he has returned to form since reverting to the smaller obstacles.
He was leading the field in Doncaster, only for the race to be voided due to a stricken horse at the penultimate flight, but gained compensation in another handicap hurdle at the same course in February when he stayed on well to beat Good Old Thyme by half a length.
The Coral Cup is his Festival target.
Spirit Of Adjisa
A five-time winner on the Flat between 10 and 13 furlongs for trainer Pat Eddery, Spirit Of Adjisa joined the stable after coming sixth in a Newmarket handicap on October 30.
He made his debut in a maiden hurdle at Newbury on December 16, when he kept on in the closing stages to take second behind the Nicky Henderson-trained Oscar Whisky.
He also made the frame on his next start, coming home third in a Taunton novices' hurdle on December 30 despite making mistakes at the penultimate and last flights.
Tarotino looked to be a horse on the upgrade and started 10/1 for the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November. However, he failed to show his best form in that race and was pulled up behind Tranquil Sea.
His latest outing came in the valuable Blue Square Handicap Chase at Doncaster on February 6, when he finished eighth.
He is being aimed at the Byrne Group Plate at the Festival.
The Betchworth Kid
A classy performer on the Flat for Michael Bell, The Betchworth Kid landed the Mallard Handicap at Doncaster in September 2008, and was third in the Group Two Goodwood Cup the following July.
He made his hurdling debut in a novice contest at Plumpton in November, when he got the better of King Edmund near the line to record a workmanlike two and a half length victory, with 36 lengths back to the third home.
Ran a good race in defeat on his next start in a novice hurdle at Taunton as he stayed on well, but could not catch Tito Bustillo near the line, going down by a neck giving away 4lb.
He also posted another pleasing performance in a highly competitive novices' hurdle at Kempton on February 12. After making a bad mistake at the second flight, he kept on in the closing stages to finish third behind Phidippides and the well-regarded Quantitativeeasing.
He will step up in distance in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Festival.
After taking a fine fifth behind Zaynar in the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Festival last year, Trenchant posted another excellent effort to take fourth in the Grade Two Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree's Grand National meeting. He ended his campaign with a creditable sixth behind Mikael D'Haguenet in the Grade One Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown festival in May.
Trenchant failed to beat a horse home on his seasonal return in a limited handicap hurdle at Chepstow on October 10, but he bounced back to form when getting the better of Alderluck in a thrilling finish to a Pertemps qualifier at Kempton.
He stepped up to three miles for the first time for the boylepoker.com Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, in which he took fifth under top weight, but produced another below-par effort on his latest start to come home ninth in a Grade Three handicap hurdle at Sandown on February 6.
Voy Por Ustedes
So far this season Voy Por Ustedes has not been seen at his best. After finishing a decent third in a Grade Two event at Ascot in November he once again tackled three miles. This time the race was the Grade One Lexus Chase at Leopardstown and he finished a well-beaten sixth behind What A Friend. His latest appearance was in the extended two-mile Game Spirit Chase at Newbury when he came home fourth behind Master Minded.
For a mile and a half last week I thought it was great -- he showed his old dash and jumped very well.
It was very clear that he does not have the pace for two miles any more. He has come out of the race fine and will go straight to the Ryanair.