RACING fans are holding their breath as the dangers of this coronavirus virus threaten to derail the Cheltenham Festival.
As things stand Cheltenham is going ahead and leading racing pundit Gary O’Brien was in Carrigaline this week for a preview night.
Affectionately known as ‘the voice’, O’Brien wasted no time by predicting a victory in the Supreme novice hurdle for Cork man Joe Donnelly.
O’Brien says: “I can imagine that there is great excitement here in Cork with Joe Donnelly having three outstanding novice hurdlers Shishkin, Asterian Forlonge, The Big Getaway and the defending Gold Cup Champion Al Boum Photo.
"It looks like the first two will clash in the opening race of the festival and I must say I’ve really liked Shiskin in his two victories.
"The Nicky Henderson team are making all the right noises about this horse. Shiskin reminds me of Altior the way he runs, just when you think he might be in a spot of bother he takes off again.
"He’s a very smart horse but the price is gone at this stage although he should drift on the day.
"Asterian Forlonge is obviously trained by Willie Mullins but I thought he ran a bit green at Leopardstown.
"Abacadabras was fourth in last year’s bumper and has looked very consistent all season.
"The winner is likely to come from these three and preference is for Shiskin for Joe Donnelly and Nicky Henderson.”
Jockey Davy Russell will carry the hopes of a nation with Envoi Allen who won the bumper at last years festival.
He has comfortably won his three races this season including a pair of Grade 1 contests.
Bookmakers certainly believe the horse is the real deal and his current price of 11/10 for the Ballymore novice hurdle wont entice too many punters.
“On official ratings Envoi Allen isn’t that far ahead of the others.
"I certainly believe he will be a drifter on the day and punters will wait for a more attractive price.
"There are a number of very good horses taking him on including Sporting John, The Big Getaway and possibly Thyme Hill.
"But Davy Russell (below) is a man for the big day and is brilliant around Cheltenham.
"Latest Exhibition for the Paul Nolan team must have a big chance in the Albert Bartlett.
"Favourites have a terrible record in this race and we saw Henry De Bromhead winning it with Minella Indo who was a 50/1 chance in the morning of the race last year.
"Monkfish looks decent for the Mullins team but it’s always a tough race to win.
“The Champion Hurdle looks wide open and there is still a chance something might be supplemented for the race.
"Benie Des Dieux is going to the mares hurdle so maybe Honeysuckle might be rerouted to the Champion Hurdle after winning the Irish equivalent.
"I’ve a few quid on Pentland Hills although his runs have been disappointing so far.
"But I’m still hopeful that with a strong pace this horse will be right there at the finish. He’s another horse who I think will be a big drifter on the day.
"Coeur Sublime is probably the each/way value at 20/1. Supasundae is probably another horse who is in that category.”
The day two highlight is the Champion Chase and for many people this is the race of the week.
Altior will bring the house down if he manages to complete three-in-a-row while Defi Du Seuil has looked hugely impressive across the water all season.
Chacun Pour Soi has a lofty reputation and beat stablemate Min comfortably at the Dublin Racing Festival.
“Like everyone I think this is the race of the meeting and I’m firmly in the Defi Du Seuil camp.
"Altior was good the last day but the opposition here is very classy. Defi has a gear change when the tempo increased in a race and jumps really well.
"The Mullins team have been bullish about Chaqun Pour Soi although he didn’t convince everyone with his victory at Leopardstown.
“The three novice chasers will divide opinion but I really like Notebook for the Arkle despite his high jinks before he won the last day at Leopardstown.
"Joseph (O’Brien) will probably run Fakir Doudairies here and is a very worthy opponent.
"Minella Indo runs in the RSA Chase and is one of my strongest fancies for the week.
"Henry De Bromhead has an excellent team heading over and this horse won the Albert Bartlett at last year’s meeting.
"Samcro is very hard to back but the vibes from the Gordon Elliot yard are very positive.
"Maybe Ollie Murphy’s Ithy Feet will be a big player in the Marsh novice chase.
"With Glenloe out injured it now looks like Jamie Codd will ride Ravenhill in the Kim Muir. In these amateur races it pays to follow the best amateur jockeys in the race.
“The Gold Cup looks wide open also. I was a huge fan of Lostintranslation but after his disappointing run in the King George I’m gone a bit cold on him.
"Al Boum Photo must have a massive chance for Joe Donnelly and Paul Townend but defending a Gold Cup is very difficult.
"Delta Work is the solid horse after his two wins at Leopardstown and will have Mark Walsh in the saddle.
"Presenting Percy and Davy Russell are another combination to keep an eye on.
"Punters will need to thread very carefully as the ground conditions will make it very tough going.
"My two for the week are Minella Indo and despite falling the last day Aspire Tower looks certain to make the frame."