As Irish fortunes have waxed at The Festival, the Horse Racing Ireland-hosted Irish Racing Focus press conference before racing on Tuesday has become the place to find winners. This year trainers Ted Walsh and Henry de Bromhead were joined by Festival-winning amateur jockeys Derek O'Connor and Lisa O'Neill in discussing the week ahead.
Ted Walsh believes that his son Ruby's best chance of adding to his record of 56 Festival winners comes in the Racing Post Arkle Chase today.
"Footpad is Ruby's best chance of the week," he said. "The horse has done everything right this year. Both Footpad and Petit Mouchoir [trained by Henry de Bromhead] are Grade One winners over hurdles. Both jump and both stay; it's a toss-up between the two of them."
De Bromhead was slightly more cautious about his runner, saying: "He has done nothing wrong, but we have had an interrupted season and are on our way back. I wouldn't discount Saint Calvados either."
O'Connor added that he thought Petit Mouchoir had the edge over Footpad.
The principal race of the day is the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Walsh said: "Buveur D'Air has all the qualities and is trained by a man who knows exactly how to get a horse spot on for the Champion Hurdle [Nicky Henderson]. He's in tip-top shape. I wouldn't back anything to beat Buveur D'Air, but if I was having a bet it would be Faugheen; none of the others can beat Buveur D'Air."
De Bromhead discussed his own runner's chances, saying: "I'm not saying he can win it, but Identity Thief's best form is on heavy ground - he won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle on it. He's needed his last couple of runs and has really come into himself. I wouldn't be blown away if he made the frame."
Derek O'Connor added that Faugheen in cheekpieces would be very interesting.
Walsh runs Any Second Now in the final race of day one, the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.
"He has an each-way chance," said Walsh. "I'd be disappointed if he didn't jump the last with a chance."
Both O'Neill and O'Connor have rides in the sixth race of the day, the National Hunt Challenge Cup. O'Connor admitted that he was worried about the heavy ground for his ride, the Philip Hobbs-trained No Comment, and said: "Lisa's horse, Mossback [trained by Gordon Elliott, for whom O'Neill won the race last year aboard Tiger Roll] is my bet of the day."
"He has travelled over very well and we'll go out there with every chance," said O'Neill, who said that her best bet of the day was Apple's Jade in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, for which the mare is odds-on.
Looking ahead to the rest of the week, Walsh stated that he would be "dumbfounded" if the Gordon Elliott-trained Samcro was beaten in Wednesday's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, while de Bromhead confirmed that Monalee was in "very good form" ahead of the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase.
"We think he is a three-mile horse," he said. "I know a lot of people think we should have gone for the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half miles but it looked like he needed the last furlong over two miles five at Leopardstown. We'll find out tomorrow how right we are!"
De Bromhead also discussed his 2017 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Special Tiara.
"He's brilliant. In fairness it is probably isn't his ground so it will be very hard for him to defend his title. I thought his run at Leopardstown was fantastic and if the ground had come up good here I thought he would be in front of Min [who beat him at Leopardstown] but now that it hasn't, we're going to struggle, I would imagine."
Walsh added: "I wasn't surprised that Ruby chose to ride Douvan over Min. I've never heard Min spoken about in Willie Mullins' yard in the same terms as Douvan, Faugheen, Vautour and Annie Power. So I think if there is any chance of beating Altior, it will be Douvan. I couldn't see Min beating the Altior I saw at Newbury or here last year."
O'Connor has a chance of adding a Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup winner to his list of achievements; he rides the Joseph O'Brien-trained Edwulf in the feature race of the meeting.
"I think Edwulf has a realistic chance of winning it," said O'Connor. "He'll handle the conditions, he'll jump very well. He's coming over on Thursday afternoon so settling in won't be a problem. I think he will run a big race."
The Festival reigns over us
All the elements, bar warm sunshine, have been thrown at Cheltenham in recent weeks, but The Festival starts on time at Prestbury Park today.
Now one of Britain's great sporting occasions, and the best for fans of Jump racing, The Festival is a feast for the press, broadcast media and those whose thumbs are poised to deliver the who's and news via social media. As the Racing Post puts it in a colourful front page montage, The Festival is 'Where dreams come true'. Teeing up the opening day, the paper's Alastair Down writes: "Few things are beyond price. Our next four days are just that."
Of the many stories that will unfold or fail this week, one centres on Bryony Frost, 22, whose excellence as a novice jockey has been a theme of the season. The Guardian's Donald McRae buddies up to senior jockey Paddy Brennan - someone who has known lows that Frost has yet to peer into - to get his assessment of her journey so far, while the Daily Express proclaims 'A winter of Frost - racing's new hope'. Reporter Gideon Brooks describes Devon's finest as "Bright, thoughtful and articulate," and writes: "It is little wonder those in charge of racing's image have hitched tightly to Frost's coat-tails this winter." The Daily Mirror devotes a spread to Frost in its 24-page Festival pull-out, describing her as 'Ice cool . . red hot'. Frost tells Rick Broadbent of The Times: "Perhaps we girls fall better. We're rounder than the lads."
Ruby Walsh, with 56 Festival winners, has nothing to prove except longevity. In an interview with Marcus Townend of the Daily Mail, Walsh says: "I have fewer friends in the weighing room than I had 10 years ago. Most of them have retired! I miss A P."
The Times' focus on Walsh assesses his injury count, which it claims is '21 in 20 years as a professional jockey'. That would only be the injuries he admits to - the cuts, bruises and bone bashes that would keep most of us off work are ignored.
Walsh features on the cover of The Irish Independent's 'Cheltenham Punter' racing special, which includes the views of trainer Willie Mullins' son Patrick. He reckons Faugheen can topple Buveur D'Air in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, and puts in a good word for Benie Des Dieux against Apple's Jade in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.
For the horses a dribble of snot or luke-warm foot at this stage can end months of Festival dreams for their owners. My Tent Or Yours was withdrawn from the Unibet Champion Hurdle this morning, and his Nicky Henderson-trained stablemate, Altior, was the centre of a scare yesterday, a story that leads 'Cheltenham Festival' coverage in i. The paper's Kevin Garside captures one of The Festival's best qualities when writing: "For four days, folk of different class and circumstance rub along cheek by jodhpur."
The Daily Star's colourful, 12-page racing pullout, leads with a photo of Unibet Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D'Air - and the bold headline 'Hot D'Air' - while the paper's Patrick Weaver suggests punters should 'Get ahead' in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle with Getabird.
Templegate of The Sun naps Mossback in the National Hunt Chase, and the same paper has signed up jockey Nico De Boinville for his assessment of day one - Claimantakinforgan, his mount in the opener, can "run into a place at least". De Boinville also features in a Paul Hayward interview in The Daily Telegraph and on the front of the Daily Mirror's racing special. Its headline, 'Holy Trinity', focuses on Nicky Henderson's three key hopes, Buveur D'Air, Might Bite and Altior - De Boinville rides the last-named pair.
The Western Daily Press gives The Festival due column inches, and at a time when spies are a theme, the paper's Richard Bache finds "a Cold War flavour" for those seeking topical tips. His day one suggestions, Kalashnikov, Markov, Beware The Bear and OO Seven, could be worth 'Putin' onto betting slips.