'Benie' the banker as Irish Festival fancies go under the microscope
There is no such thing as a certainty in racing - let alone at the Cheltenham Festival - but five Irish challengers stand head and shoulders among the battalions heading to the Cotswolds.
A five-timer on these Irish favourites pays 112.4/1 but which of the quintet are most likely to get the job done as we rate the Irish Festival 'bankers'?
Benie Des Dieux (Mares' Hurdle, 11/10)
Willie Mullins hasn't the crack team of previous Festivals with just one hotpot among the 28 races but Benie Des Dieux looks every inch a winner.
Winner of this race 12 months ago when putting Apple's Jade to the sword, she confirmed that form with a smooth Punchestown Festival success.
The lack of a run this season isn't a worry as Mullins made a mockery of that theory with Quevega as she dominated this contest and the lack of depth among this year's challengers make the eight-year-old one of the bankers on the opening day.
Star rating *****
Delta Work (RSA Chase, 2/1)
Many of the leading fancies have question marks but there's a lot to like about Delta Work, unbeaten in his three chase starts and improving with every run over fences.
A winner at last year's Festival when landing the Pertemps over three miles, there looks to be no end to his engine and Elliott's six-year-old got the better of subsequent dual Grade One winner Le Richebourg in the Drinmore Chase.
Last year's Triumph Hurdle winner Santini has fitness concerns and was turned over at Christmas, while Topofthegame is still a maiden over fences.
Three of the last four RSA Chase favourites have obliged and Delta Work is a solid bet to do likewise.
Star rating ****
Tiger Roll (Cross-Country, 1/1)
Having gone off a disregarded 25/1 shot on his second start of the season in last month's Grade Two Boyne Hurdle, everyone was left in no doubt about the class of Tiger Roll.
Elliott's charge blew any cobwebs away with a scintillating performance despite the trainer admitting he was only being 75pc fit and he justifies his place at the head of the market.
Bidding to land his fourth Festival victory, Keith Donoghue's mount will take all the beating as he sets off to repeat last year's Cross Country/Aintree Grand National double.
Anything can happen in these unpredictable events but he does look a good thing barring a mishap and obvious challengers to live with the nine-year-old on day two aren't exactly jumping out.
Star rating *****
Sir Erec (Triumph Hurdle, 1/1)
There have been few horses switching from the Flat to jumps that brought the reputation with them which Sir Erec did to hurdling but he's backing it up and is two from two for Joseph O'Brien.
The four-year-old had it all his own way from the front when landing the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, however, with little premium placed on speed coming off a pedestrian gallop. He falls into the 'could be anything' category but represents little value as Cheltenham exposes any frailties, if they exist.
Star rating ****
Presenting Percy (Gold Cup, 7/2)
Presenting Percy - trained by the enigmatic Pat Kelly - hasn't raced over fences since a scintillating victory in last year's RSA Chase and it would be an extraordinary training performance if he were to land the blue riband.
Already a two-time Festival winner, the eight-year-old showed his rude health when landing the Galmoy Hurdle, but this is a vintage Gold Cup with at least ten credible challengers.
The roof will come off Cheltenham if Davy Russell can steer him home but he must overcome all kinds of odds.
Star rating ***