Racing / Cheltenham Festival: Boro's burden of high expectation: Greg Wood on the strength of the challenge from Ireland

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The Independent Online
WHEN patriotism and optimism are making you faint, trust a bookmaker to administer smelling salts.

As the Irish contingent arrives for the Festival talking a convincing fight, Coral offer 8-1 about their chance of returning home with three winners; their price about Martin Pipe single-handedly doing the same is 11-4. Hardly encouraging for a team which Paddy Mullins describes as 'better than for the last few years'.

Mullins is a man who knows, having saddled Dawn Run to record the last Irish-trained successes in both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. That great horse's colours will be carried by Mullins's Boro Eight in the Supreme Novice Hurdle which opens today's card, and which may assume the same significance for the visiting punters that Basildon has for politicians on election night. If both Boro Eight and Pat Flynn's Montelado are well beaten here, it is likely to be a long three days.

Trainers both Irish and British are already rehearsing their fast ground excuses and 'why me?' stares, but after walking the course on Sunday Mullins said: 'it's a bit better than I was informed. There's a lot of grass on it, and it's not firm, anyway,' while Flynn said of Montelado, easy winner of the Festival Bumper last year, 'he'll go on it, no problem'.

That fact alone makes Montelado an appealing bet, and his absence since a lifeless display at Christmas, when all his trainer's horses were running poorly, should not deter. Montelado is best when fresh and Flynn was planning to give him a long rest before the Festival in any case.

There is no shortage of talk behind many of his 40-odd fellow- travellers, but for the most part it cuts like cream.

The Festival Bumper's blend of unexposed horses and fertile imaginations has forced even the tap-room tipsters to grope for wisdom, though good things are said of Heist, trained by Noel Meade, and the best judges fancy Lesley Young's Eagle Rock.

Vintage Crop (Champion Hurdle), General Idea (Cathcart Chase), Kerry Orchid (Foxhunters' Chase) and Bitofabanter (County Hurdle) will at least start at single-figure odds, but listen again to Mullins before you back them.

'Having had such little success over the last few years, I'm prepared for anything,' the trainer says. 'We came over here with horses we really fancied and were run over. Maybe we'll do better this year. I don't know.'