The Cheltenham Festival gets under way next Tuesday and hopes of a bumper week for Irish-trained runners are high. An especially strong challenge for the Gold Cup, Un De Sceaux’s bid for Queen Mother glory and Annie Power’s Champion Hurdle assault are among the headline acts for the raiding party.

All eyes will once again be on Willie Mullins, who supplies a host of leading fancies while Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead have also assembled formidable teams.

Irish winners of the Gold Cup have been somewhat scarce over the last quarter of a century. However, in last year’s second Djakadam, in stablemates Vautour and Don Poli, along with the Elliott-trained Don Cossack, there is every chance that this country is set to crown another staying star. Djakadam boasts the best form on offer.

Don Poli has impeccable Cheltenham credentials, having won there twice, while Vautour is the classiest runner in the field. A good case could be made for all, but perhaps this is Don Cossack’s year and he is chosen ahead of Djakadam and Don Poli.

In the Champion Hurdle, Willie Mullins has been able to call upon a reserve of tremendous quality in Annie Power, yet whether a championship race over two miles will show her off to best effect is a major imponderable.

Annie Power’s multiple Grade 1-winning stablemate Nichols Canyon must have a major chance and is unquestionably much better than he got to show when trounced by Faugheen last time. He is a formidable rival as is Identity Thief who has come from left field somewhat to emerge as a lively Champion Hurdle contender. The manner in which he has improved with every run this season is striking and, if he takes another step forward, he might just prevail.

Un De Sceaux sets a clear standard in the Champion Chase. A smooth round of jumping can see him justify favouritism. In a very open Ryanair Chase, Smashing is one that makes each way appeal while in the World Hurdle, Alpha Des Obeaux could give the English hotpot Thistlecrack a real fright.

Min has dominated the market for the Supreme Novices Hurdle and is certainly the one to beat, still the de Bromhead-trained Supasundae impressed when winning a maiden at Leopardstown over Christmas and makes definite each way appeal.

In the Neptune Invesment Management Novice Hurdle, the home team have a rock solid favourite in Yanworth. Here the French import A Toi Phil can at least challenge strongly for a place in the frame.

Up For Review looked good in winning his first two starts over timber and a strong showing from him in the Albert Bartlett is expected.

stellar potential

The novice chase division supplies perhaps the most solid favourite of the week in Douvan. The brilliant novice hurdler is a chaser of stellar potential and it will be a major shock if he meets with defeat in the Arkle. No More Heroes dominates the RSA Chase betting and this dual Grade 1 scorer is the benchmark for success, even though in Jonjo O’Neill’s More Of That, he faces a daunting rival. Vroum Vroum Mag could continue the Mullins domination of the Mares Hurdle. It is still hard to get a handle on how good this mare could be and this is a race that could be within her reach.

The champion trainer has several appealing handicap challengers and the likes of Arbre De Vie in the Coral Cup and Townshend in the County Hurdle are two that spring to mind. Elliott also has plenty with chances in the handicaps and his Our Father – the subject of significant support lately – is put forward for the Kim Muir.

Leave At Dawn has a solid chance of becoming the first Irish winner of the Pertemps Final in 10 years, while On The Fringe’s credentials for the Foxhunters make him hard to oppose. The latter’s trainer Enda Bolger also has realistic hopes of landing the cross-country chase with Josies Orders.