Irish trained horses took home seven of the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival in 2017, something that will obviously be very hard to match this time around. However, the strength of the Irish challenge in the Cheltenham handicaps is at an unprecedented level at the moment.
No longer are such races an afterthought for horses not good enough to run in the graded contests, but are definitely an end in themselves. Here are a few that could make a wave or two next week . . .
A good novice hurdler last year who looked in need of a trip, he is yet to get off the mark over fences this season but the manner in which he has been campaigned suggests that a handicap at Cheltenham has been on the minds of connections, with the hope that he can begin to make the grade in better races next season.
He has done little wrong in four starts in novice chases – chasing home smart novice chasers Monalee and Invitation Only in pre-Christmas beginners events at Punchestown and Navan, before stepping up to Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over an inadequate 2m1f trip behind Footpad the last twice.
He probably wants further than 2m4f but he should be well suited by what is sure to be a truly-run contest and, despite having a fair bit of weight to carry, he is one of those rare Irish-trained horses running off his Irish mark.
The best is yet to be seen of this ex-French-trained son of Poliglote, as a likely bid for the Coral Cup will be just his sixth career start.
Winner of one of his two starts over hurdles in France, he is yet to win for Gordon Elliott but that does not paint a complete picture. He was a very promising third behind stable companion Mick Jazz in a Listed novice hurdle at Punchestown in February of last year and didn't do himself justice when given a lot to do on his first handicap at that venue a couple of months later.
He was not seen again until running at Fairyhouse last month, when he looked to be making ground until making a mistake at a vital stage. He then hit a bit of a flat spot early in the straight, but picked up well after the final flight without having any chance with impressive winner Out Of The Loop.
Despite his relative handicap inexperience, he should come on a good deal for the run and is unlikely to be too far away in whatever handicap he runs in. His British mark is 6lb higher than his Irish one, and you'd would think that the weight of 11st 1lb in the Coral Cup might prove to be more attractive.