Harrington set to find missing piece of Festival jigsaw
Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power combined to take the Gold Cup with Sizing John 12 months ago and today the pair bid to complete the missing piece of a Festival jigsaw for the 71-year-old trainer with Supasundae in the Stayers' Hurdle.
The Moone handler added the blue riband to her Champion Chase (Moscow Flyer in 2003 and '05 and Champion Hurdle (Jezki in 2014) wins but she now bids to go one better by taking the three-mile hurdle crown to become the first Irish trainer to win the 'Big Four' championship races at the Cotswolds.
It would be an astonishing feat but last year's Coral Cup winner is a leading player having taken the Irish Champion Hurdle when "sharpening up" for today's test over a shorter trip.
Supplementing him for Tuesday's showpiece was never considered by Harrington but despite Supasundae's leading claims, history will not be easily made in one of the most competitive races of the meeting.
That is in stark contrast to two of my bankers of the Festival with Willie Mullins' Laurina looking like a good thing in an average Mares' Novices' Hurdle while stablemate Un De Sceaux looks a cut above the rest in the Ryanair Chase.
Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary has never won the race he sponsors and that is unlikely to change this year with the testing ground against his two runners - Balko Des Flos and Sub Lieutenant - for trainer Henry de Bromhead.
1.30 Grade One JLT Novices' Chase 2m 3f 198yds
This is an open betting heat headed by Mullins's Invitation Only with the Closutton maestro bidding for his fifth victory in the race and his fourth in succession.
His close third to Monalee at the Dublin Racing Festival makes him a key player but this is a competitive opener with the English well represented by Finian's Oscar, the dual Grade One-winning hurdler returning to Cheltenham having had a wind operation since his last run in January.
His jumping is sketchy but conditions will suit Colin Tizzard's charge - with Robbie Power aboard - so he is respected, while Nicky Henderson's Terrefort, in the same colours as Arkle winner Footpad, is another exciting novice which plundered a Sandown Grade One in gutsy fashion on his last start.
Kemboy is the value choice at big odds with Mullins's second string as strong as his first, as Melon showed on Tuesday. With fine Festival form from a fifth-place finish in last year's Ballymore Hurdle to his name, it would be no surprise to see the lightly-raced six-year-old improve to make the frame.
Verdict: Kemboy (e/w) can spring a surprise at a big price.
2.10 Grade Three Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle 2m 7f 213yds
JP McManus has a habit of producing winners in competitive handicaps and the Limerick owner saddles one sixth of the 24-runner field, including market leader Glenloe for Gordon Elliott.
There has been just one winning favourite in the last 10 runnings, however, so Barry Geraghty's mount has it all to prove despite lurking towards the bottom of the handicap and looking unexposed.
Another McManus runner which catches the eye is the Eddie Harty-trained Sort It Out, which ran a cracker in his only other Festival appearance when second in the County Hurdle three years ago.
It must be remembered, however, that before the wins of Presenting Percy and Mall Dini, the visiting team had an appalling record in this race, so the English representatives are respected.
The best of them may be Louis' Vac Pouch, which looked a stayer to keep on the right side of when beating Forza Milan at Aintree. The distance and gruelling conditions will find out many but not the mount of British champion jockey Richard Johnson, which can score for trainer Philip Hobbs.
Verdict: Louis' Vac Pouch can score for Johnson and Hobbs.
2.50 Grade One Ryanair Chase 2m 4f 166yds
Should Cue Card roll back the years and take the Ryanair Chase for the second time - on his seventh Festival run - it would bring the house down but as a 12-year-old, the 2013 winner faces a stiff task.
Last year's victor Un De Sceaux has looked better than ever this season and his cosy success in the Grade One Clarence House Chase in January should have him cherry ripe for his back-to-back effort.
With his growing years, Mullins' 10-year-old has given punters fewer heart-stopping moments having learned to settle better in his races and rein in the exuberance which saw him hit the deck twice in his younger years.
He is developing into one of the finest chasers of his generation and while conditions may test his stamina, he is taken to score while his biggest danger may come from Paul Nicholls' Frodon - a dual Grade Three handicap chase course and distance winner which loves heavy going.
Last year's Arkle second Cloudy Dream always runs his race but lacks the class to take this, while 2017 Galway Plate winner Balko Des Flos may struggle on today's ground.
Verdict: Un De Sceaux (nap) is the best horse in the race and can double up.
3.30 Grade One Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle 2m 7f 213yds
What looked like a weak renewal a few months back is now a minefield for punters with any of 10 having a chance among the 17-runner field.
Harrington's training CV has one major trophy missing and she sends Supasundae into battle today having made rapid improvement this season and he bids to turn the tables on Alan King's Yanworth having finished a length behind him at Aintree last season over a similar trip.
Yanworth - subsequently disqualified when seventh as 2/1 favourite in last year's Champion Hurdle - returns from a stint over fences but his Liverpool form may be reversed with Sam Spinner another leading contender in a cracking field.
Trained by cancer survivor Jedd O'Keeffe and ridden by Joe Colliver, Sam Spinner took the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle with the re-opposing L'Ami Serge and Unowhatimeanharry in behind and the six-year-old is on an upward curve.
L'Ami Serge (with Festival form figures of 4-3-2) and last year's third Unowhatimeanharry are both interesting while a four-pronged Mullins attack is led by dual Grade One winner Bacardys - which reverts back to hurdles from chasing and will love the ground and course - and last year's Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner Penhill, which lacks race fitness but will love conditions and can play a part.
Verdict: Take Supasundae to make history for Harrington in a tight affair.
4.10 Grade Three Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase 2m 4f 166yds
There has the only been one single-priced winner - 2012 winner Salut Flo at 9/2 - and only one favourite to prevail since the turn of the Millennium and, similarly, the last two victors, Road To Respect and Empire Of Dirt, are the only Irish winners in that time.
Tully East took last year's Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase for Alan Fleming and Denis O'Regan and is respected while Elliott's The Storyteller is off an attractive mark should his jumping stand up to the test.
King's Socks, second to subsequent Arkle winner Footpad in France, could leave recent form behind for David Pipe - winner of this race three times in the last eight years - but the selection is Guitar Pete at a big price.
Third in the Triumph Hurdle four years ago when trained in Ireland, the former Grade One-winning juvenile hurdler has bounced back to form and won over course and distance in December. He is a major player for Scottish trainer Nicky Richards with Ryan Day taking three pounds off.
Verdict: Day can get a tune out of Guitar Pete at fancy odds.
4.50 Grade Two Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle 2m 179yds
Mullins has been sweet on Laurina since joining him from France and the likeable mare duly stuffed Alletrix - subsequent winner of a competitive handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival - in a Fairyhouse Grade Three.
The five-year-old has won both of her starts on heavy ground since coming to Closutton and given that Mullins has won both renewals of this race and is prolific with mares, it's very hard to look past the odds-on favourite, nominated by her trainer as his best chance of the Festival at the start of the week.
Despite Walsh's absence, Laurina is the one to beat but if she were to be turned over, the most likely candidate is Maria's Benefit, bred by former Kilkenny All-Ireland-winning hurler Charlie Carter and trained by Stuart Edmunds.
Ciaran Gethings has been aboard for five consecutive wins on the hardy mare, which will set a strong pace from the front, but making all around Cheltenham would require a career-best and she is likely to play second fiddle.
Verdict: There's no stopping Laurina.
5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase 3m 2f
It's fair to say Mall Dini didn't have the run of the race when fifth 12 months ago but off the same mark, Pat Kelly's eight-year-old holds leading claims under Patrick Mullins.
Winner of the Pertemps Hurdle Final two years ago, Mall Dini loves it around the undulations of Cheltenham and despite still being a maiden over fences after nine chase runs, she will be hard beaten with blinkers applied.
Squouateur was favourite and had a lot to do when unseating three from home in last year's renewal but the mount of Jamie Codd - who has four wins in the last nine runnings - will be a big player if steering clear of trouble.
At bigger prices, last year's runner-up Pendra is interesting under Derek O'Connor while English challenger Millanisi Boy will love the conditions and could defy his odds given how the form of his Newbury second has worked out.
Verdict: Mall Dini can score again at the Festival for owner Philip Reynolds.