It doesn’t have the same appeal as, say, those great Arkle v Mill House clashes of the 1960s, but there’s still lots to look forward to in the meeting of Big Bucks and Annie Power in the World Hurdle, the feature event on the third day of this week’s Cheltenham Festival.
Big Bucks, the defending champion, runs for England, while the Willie Mullins-trained Annie Power, who has yet to lose after being ten times to the starting tapes, wears the Ireland colours.
That’s part of this great meeting’s appeal, horses from this country lining up against those representing the auld enemy. It may be more refined than the clashes spoken about here a few weeks ago, those involving the countries’ rugby, boxing and soccer teams, but the rivalry’s still mustard-keen, thousands upon thousands of pounds, not to mention euros, riding on the outcome of each renewal.
England won’t be in the other corner when Ireland goes in search of a rugby win on Saturday. It’s France who provide the opposition in the Six Nations title-clincher, and you can take it there’ll be hundreds of Cheltenham racegoers, who, win lose or break even at Prestbury Park, won’t be coming home on Friday evening, but heading to Paris.
Such is the quality and sheer size of the team of horses he’s taking over, if this were a soccer match, Willie Mullins would not only be Ireland captain, but also taking the frees, penalties, corner-kicks and throw-ins. And he’d probably own the jerseys as well.
The Co Carlow handler has upwards of 40 running throughout the week, and among them are leading fancies for many of the big races, Hurricane Fly (Champion Hurdle), Quevega (Mares’ Hurdle) and the aforementioned Annie Power. He’s odds-on to again be leading trainer, while the man who’ll be aboard most of the stable stars, Ruby Walsh, is favourite to take the jockeys’ title.
But while Mullins’ team is arguably the strongest ever to represent his Closutton stable, it’s odds-against Ireland finishing with more winners than the home side, as happened last year. There’s a trophy, the Prestbury Cup, on offer for this particular contest for the first time, and England is 1/3 to win it.
As promised, Inside Track has been asking questions, eavesdropping, earwigging and just about everything else you can think of over the past few weeks, hoping to come up with one readers can get stuck into. We’ve struck on one, Captain Conan in Thursday’s Champion Chase. Nicky Henderson’s charge is 5/1, and if getting a clear round looks nailed on to be in the first three. But, go on, take it on the nose.
And should this one oblige, the hope is that the master of Seven Barrows will be back in the winners’ enclosure on the following day, welcoming in Bobs Worth as winner of the Gold Cup.
This is the one that’s linked with Ireland (to win the Six-Nations) in a double, which, should it come up, will guarantee bread being on a certain household’s table for the foreseeable future.
Any kind of a win in Paris – one-point, record or even dirty – will give Ireland the title, and, of course, Brian O’Driscoll the ending to his International career deserves.
Go on, BOD, cheer home Bobs Worth on Friday and then go out and do the business 24 hours later.