According to Paddy Power, it could be make or break for the bookies as early as today as a win for each of Willie Mullins’ four big favourites (Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen, and Annie Power) would leave them facing an uphill struggle for the remainder of the festival.
The Irish challenge for this year’s festival is as strong as ever, with trainers of the calibre of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, and Noel Meade all expected to feature strongly over the four days.
The feelgood factor is high among Irish racegoers, with many expecting that the 2015 festival could see a record number of Irish-trained winners.
Since 2005, Irish winners at Cheltenham have averaged out at nine each year. There were only five Irish-trained winners in 2007 and again in 2012 but 13 in 2011, a record 14 in 2013, and 12 again last year has ensured that racegoers are crossing the Irish Sea with full wallets and an abundance of confidence.
Willie Mullins will send the biggest Irish contingent to the Cotswolds location, with estimates suggesting that the champion trainer could have as many as 50 runners. He has been the leading trainer at the festival in four of the last five years.
Opening race favourite Douvan, Arkle Chase favourite Un De Sceaux, Champion Hurdle hopes Faugheen and Hurricane Fly, and Mares’ Hurdle hotpot Annie Power are all leading fancies today.
Other well-touted Irish-trained runners on day one will include Jessica Harrington’s Jezki, the reigning champion hurdler, Edward O’Grady’s Kitten Rock, and the Noel Meade-trained Very Wood, the early favourite in the National Hunt Chase.