The final entries for the Cheltenham Festival were revealed yesterday with Quevega headlining the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle, while only 10 Irish- trained horses have been entered for the Champion Bumper.
Quevega was joined by 27 other mares yesterday, seven of which were Irish-trained, including last year’s Festival winner What A Charm, who triumphed in the Fred Winter for Arthur Moore.
As well as the three-time winner of the David Nicholson, Willie Mullins has also included Blazing Tempo and Dare To Doubt, while Friday night’s Dundalk maiden winner Shop DJ has been included by Peter Fahey.
Paul Nolan’s Golden Sunbird is also among the possibilities, while Our Girl Salley looks set to take her chance in the race having missed it last year following a setback.
Trainer Prunella Dobbs said: “Our Girl Salley is going to run in the Mares Hurdle and has been in very good form.”
Our Girl Salley was third last time out when stepping up to three miles at Ascot, and Dobbs doesn’t envisage the drop back in trip being a major hindrance.
“I don’t think the trip was a problem (at Ascot). I think it was more how the race was run that was against us. There was no pace because the horse that would have probably made the running was taken out in the morning – it became a sprint and that didn’t really suit us.”
The Wicklow-based trainer said: “The race will be very testing with Quevega in the field and it will be a big task to beat her, but I hope we will have a good outing.”
Dermot Weld has given his Grade One-winning mare Unaccompanied a speculative entry for the race.
Weld had said that the five-year-old Triumph Hurdle runner-up would stay at home and be campaigned in pattern company on the flat, but yesterday it was revealed that she had been given an entry in case Quevega didn’t line up.
Hopes of an incredible 15th Irish-trained winner in what is the 20th running of the Champion Bumper will rest on a maximum of 10 hopefuls.
The race hasn’t been won by an Irish raider since Dunguib won it for Ireland in 2009 for the sixth consecutive year, but this year the Willie Mullins-trained Champagne Fever and Brian Hamilton’s Moscow Mannon lead the charge.
Mullins also has Mozoltov, Pique Sous and The Paparazzi Kid in the race and said: “Champagne Fever did everything that was asked and we probably hadn’t got him ready enough at Christmas and we probably didn’t ride him right.
“Patrick changed tactics second time out, did a lot more with him and it worked.”
Mullins addded: “He won his point to point on good ground, so I don’t think the better ground in Cheltenham will be any hindrance to him, even though he gallops like a soft ground horse.
“Pique Sous came out and won well the other day in Leopardstown. It’s an open enough bumper I think this year.”
Meanwhile, Jessica Harrington is hoping that her Boylesports.com Hurdle winner Citizenship will get into the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle off a low weight as he bids for a €100,000 bonus courtesy of the bookmakers.
Harrington has Citizenship in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle as well, but said: “He’ll go for the County Hurdle.
“He’s very easy to train, he’s only had one real bit of work since Leopardstown – the less you do with him the better.”
Mullins’ Sir Des Champs also stands to win a bonus courtesy of Boylesports if he can manage to repeat his feat from last year and win at the Festival later this month.
Sir Des Champs would earn connections €50,000 if he were to win one of his intended targets, although Mullins isn’t sure which he’ll run in yet.
He said: “He’s going well and it’s all systems go for Cheltenham. I’ve yet to decide which race he’ll go for at Cheltenham, we’ll make the decision nearer the time.”