From 1982 - 2002 the Irish failed to have a single winner in this race. Since 2002 though the Irish, and in particular Willie Mullins have a fantastic record. The Irish had the first SIX home last year but it was that man Willie Mullins who trained the winner - 25/1 shot Wicklow Brave.
Ruby Walsh is looking for his fifth success in thirteen years so you'd expect his mount to be popular on the day.
I bookmarked this horse after it won at Fairyhouse off a mark of 124. Blue Hell won really well that day and looked streets ahead of its rating. The trainer said after the race that this could be a horse going places and they are likely to keep it tucked away and head straight to Cheltenham. Thats what they've done and I think its got a great each way chance. Mr Fleming also said that Blue Hell is likely to improve when seen on a sounder surface! A very interesting contender.
Willie Mullins hasn't said much about this horse but I can't help but feel when he has spoke about Townshend he is holding something back. After a strange pause he said "He's one for the County Hurdle" and that's it. Maybe I'm going mad but I get the impression he doesn't want to say too much for a reason. We've seen this horse only once in Ireland when he ran over 2m 4f at Fairyhouse on heavy going. Swinging off the final bend it was between Townshend and Gordon Elliot's Squouateur, both were travelling wonderfully. Neither were great at the 2nd last but I just think racecourse experience helped Squouateur as he got away from the hurdle slightly quicker where as Townshend seemed to need a bit of time to sort his feet out. Townshend picked backed up again before failing to see out the trip. With that experience under his belt and the slight step back in trip I really think that this horse has a great each way chance if turning up here.
A HARE BREATH
Possibly Britain's best chance of a winner in this race. Ben Pauling's horse had been off the track for almost two years when he was punted off the boards from 25/1 to 6/1 before winning at Cheltenham in November. He then turned up again at Cheltenham and ran a big race an in form rival who was near the bottom of the handicap. A Hare Breath was possibly turned out slightly too soon there so it was no surprise to him win on his next racecourse appearance at Kempton over 2m 5f. Back over a shorter trip on a stiffer track will suit and Ben Pauling / Nico De Boinville have made it clear that this horse is very good.