Mountbrowne has luck on his side

Richard Edmondson says the big race at Cheltenham can go to an Irish raider
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The Independent Online
Ireland sends over serious representation for the main races of the day at Cheltenham this afternoon, though it is difficult to decipher whether they are here for the money or just a reconnaissance mission in advance of the Festival in March.

The developing economics of the countries separated by the Irish Sea mean that animals from the land of Arkle no longer have to be ferried regularly to Britain in search of meaningful return.

"Prize money over jumps here has improved a lot, so there is not so much need to travel," Ted Walsh, the Irish commentator, said yesterday. "It used to be at Christmas that you had to go the King George [VI Chase at Kempton], but now we've got a pounds 50,000 chase at Leopardstown [the Ericcson Chase] and other races worth tens of thousands. 20 years ago they were worth pounds 1,000 a time.

"Okay, Cheltenham is still the big one, but there is no need any more to go after all the prizes. Arkle had to do it in his heyday because the prize money over here was a pittance."

Ted Walsh is Ireland's one-man job centre. The former champion amateur rider is now a trainer, horse dealer, writer and broadcaster to name just a smattering of his postings. There can never be peaceful nights then for either the butcher, baker or candlestick maker near his Greenhills yard at Naas in Co Kildare, though there is one job out of Walsh's reach, that of his nation's outstanding trainer.

Whenever this honour comes along it a seems to be bestowed on a chap by the name of O'Brien. On the Flat, in the old days, Vincent was nonpareil, now Aidan (no relation) is soaring higher than a swift.

O'Brien has a runner in both the Tripleprint Gold Cup and the Bula Hurdle at Prestbury Park this afternoon as he tries to improve on a mediocre early record in Britain. "When Aidan goes over to England he's taking on decent horses in decent races, and it's not like over here where he has the bulk of the runners and he's winning a lot of little races as well," Walsh explained. "I've no doubt that, if he was based in England, he would take the place by storm.

"It's a bit like saying that Martin Pipe hasn't dominated racing in Ireland, even though he's done it at home. You don't have that many runners away from your own racing."

O'Brien's runner in the Tripleprint is Royal Mountbrowne, who has enjoyed the sort of kind fortune this season for which his land is proverbially recognised. Merry Gale surrendered to him at Clonmel and Fairyhouse, and Imperial Call, the Gold Cup winner, also threw himself to earth at the latter track with victory seemingly assured. Nevertheless, Royal Mountbrowne (next best 2.40) is an improving beast, and if his luck holds, he may repel the obvious favourite, Addington Boy.

O'Brien's Theatreworld has no chance of beating Large Action in the Bula Hurdle on the evidence of their meeting in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse earlier this month, but it may be another runner is worth following here. Pridwell (1.45) runs well at Cheltenham (he was third in the Champion Hurdle last March) and as he will travel from Martin Pipe's yard his belly is unlikely to be scraping the floor on this his seasonal debut. He is worth a chance, particularly as he won on his comeback in the Cotswolds last year.

At Haydock, there should be a stirring contest for the Tommy Whittle Chase when One Man takes on Quixall Crossett. The latter may just have to give second best in this conditions race, as in a handicap One Man would have to give him the best part of eight stone. For this reason, Gordon Richards's grey is given marginal preference at a time of year, and around a course he enjoys. Even Imperial Call would struggle to match him in these circumstances.

Rough Quest, the Grand National winner, will be many people's idea as the one for the forecast, especially as Jenny Pitman's Nahthen Lad will now be without his regular jockey. Warren Marston was injured in a schooling accident on the gallops yesterday and his seat on the Sun Alliance Chase winner is taken by Rodney Farrant.

Earlier there will be one of racing's more exhilarating sights as Clay County (1.15) blasts off in front and attempts to get home before the petrol runs out, while there are prospects, too, for a horse who runs his races the other way round. No animal has been able to resist the stealthful thrusts of TULLYMURRY TOFF (nap 1.45) recently and he should now record his fifth consecutive victory.

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