No sign of Cheltenham Bumper banker

EVERY year we travel to Cheltenham it’s taken as a given that one of ours will definitely win the Bumper.

Last March was a good example of the stranglehold we have long had on this particular contest at the Festival, with the first eight home all coming from Ireland.

Dunguib produced an amazing display to score by ten lengths in a renewal which seems to get stronger and stronger as time moves on.

Admittedly, runner-up Some Present has been largely disappointing and appears to have lost the plot somewhat.

But after that came the likes of Rite Of Passage (third), Quel Esprit (fourth), Morning Supreme (fifth) and Shinrock Paddy (eighth).

Rite Of Passage has since won twice on the flat, including bolting away with the Leopardstown November Handicap by eight lengths.

Quel Esprit is, arguably, the most exciting novice hurdler in the country and is unbeaten in two outings over flights.

Morning Supreme has won both her hurdle races to date with any amount in hand, while Shinrock Paddy landed a Grade 1 at Navan.

It was a certainty Ireland would win the race in 2009, so powerful was the challenge, the only question was with what?

But 2010 indicates a completely different story and it is virtually impossible to be overly enthusiastic about anything.

And yet the horses at the head of the market – there are plenty of bookmakers betting on the race – are basically all Irish.

But, you suspect, that has far more to do with tradition rather than what our own eyes have been telling us for the past couple of months.

Essentially, Tom Mullins’ Tavern Times is favourite, between 12-1 and 14-1, on the back of beating subsequent Ludlow winner Old McDonald by three lengths at Fairyhouse in October.

There wasn’t much depth to that event, but Tavern Times did go off a well-backed favourite and, obviously, has loads of scope for massive improvement.

Next in the betting is Dermot Weld’s Leopardstown Christmas winner Elegant Concorde (16-1), and then there are three on 20-1, Daniel Miley’s Forty Foot Tom, who was a 25-1 shot when scoring by 24 lengths at Navan, John Kiely’s Araucaria, successful at Punchestown last time, and Noel Meade’s unraced Lavis.

All we know about Lavis is that he is apparently highly regarded and, while there may be a star among the other four, I think most pundits will need plenty of persuading.

It is quite extraordinary not to have a Willie Mullins horse, or many horses, heading the betting.

But his bumper inmates this campaign have fallen well short of the standards we have come to expect from the Carlow trainer.

Don’t Turn Bach, who won at Gowran Park and then Leopardstown, is the best of those we have seen, but seems to be a three mile chaser in the making and Mullins recently intimated he would run next in a maiden hurdle.

Bottom line right now is that we do not appear to have a real flying machine. The next few weeks will be interesting, but it will a big surprise if there’s a Dunguib, Montelado or Florida Pearl lurking among what we know already.

lGLANCING though the prices for Cheltenham the other day a few things stuck out a little, posing a question or two.

The first was the price of Big Buck’s for the Ladbrokes’ World Hurdle. He varies between 4-6 and 4-7, with Ladbrokes themselves asking you to play at the shorter price.

I know, in theory at least, he’s head and shoulders over the opposition and is the reigning champion.

But the notion one would want take such odds about a contest which won’t take place until March 18 is clearly ridiculous. I mean will he be much shorter on the day?

Voler La Vedette is quoted at around 7-2 for the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle and that’s another offer I’d be inclined to swerve.

No one is a bigger admirer of the six-year-old, but to my eyes she seemed to have enough of it at the end of two and a half miles in a moderate contest at Leopardstown at Christmas. Will she truly stay two miles, four and a half at Cheltenham?

If there is a value each-way wager right now it has to be Solwhit in the Champion Hurdle.

He showed his true colours when beating Sublimity at Leopardstown and yet there was no great shortening of his odds and he remains around the 6-1 mark.

Solwhit jumps like a rocket, stays further than two miles, will buckle down when the need is greatest and is virtually guaranteed to run his race.

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