Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Cheltenham: Kings Palace on top of Hill

Briar Hill is just one of champion trainer Willie Mullins' star-studded line-up for next week's Cheltenham Festival

Willie Mullins sends his strongest ever team to next week's annual Anglo-Irish equine confrontation at the Cheltenham Festival.

That strength is both numerical (40) and qualitative but which one is the Irish banker over the four days? Last year it was supposed to be Pont Alexandre in the Neptune Hurdle but this year's Champion Hurdle contender The New One sunk that plan.

Of all the runners leaving Co Carlow, Annie Power (15/8) in my view is the solid choice taking on Big Buck's in the World Hurdle.

And with Ruby Walsh – on board for the three previous triumphs of Big Buck's – confident the mare will stay three miles, one would have thought the pundits holding court at this week's packed Sean Graham Cheltenham Preview Night at the Europa Hotel would have been urging punters to lump on.

Look elsewhere urged Grand National winning jockey Robbie Power who was joined on the platform by trainer Gordon Elliott, the 'Voice of Irish Racing' Gary O'Brien, racecourse commentator Richard Hoiles and racing journalist Mark 'The Couch' Winstanley along with Brian and Ronan Graham.

Briar Hill is the talk of the town and has been cut from 4/1 to 3s to follow up his Champion Bumper success 12 months ago with victory in the Albert Bartlett three mile novice hurdle. He started at 25/1 last year and even Ruby Walsh didn't fancy him!

"This is Patrick Mullins' and Davey Casey's (both jockeys in the yard) nap of the festival and has to be the Irish banker of the week," trumpeted Power.

"He's a terrible worker at home but on the racecourse it's a different matter. A lazy sort, he takes plenty of stoking. He'll be sitting off the pace and visually you might not want to be on him but he'll come through where it counts."

That opinion was supported by Hoiles and Elliott who has an inside track on David Pipe's yard which provides the main challenger to the Hill – Kings Palace, an impressive winner over the trip at Taunton.

"Palace is very fast over his hurdles but there are only two from the bottom of the Cheltenham hill and that will favour Briar's stamina. The jockeys will be important and Ruby is much better than Tom Scudamore who is likely to force Palace much too early," said Hoiles.

Elliott added: "Kings Palace is a very good hurdler but Scudamore will play right into Ruby's hands and Briar will go on to win."

But not for me. Kings Palace is unbeaten in three races, is Pipe's banker and has been put away from last December to wait for his crowning moment.

Don't miss the coronation.

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