The Longshot: Plus can add another Cup as Blackmore to come out on top 

A Plus Tard to retain title for Henry de Bromhead
The Longshot: Plus can add another Cup as Blackmore to come out on top 

GOLDEN GIRL: A Plus Tard and Rachael Blackmore are our choice for the big one today.

TAKING a leap backwards is usually seen as a bad thing. And that is one way to view the tips we gave for Cheltenham earlier in the week.

Thank god for small mercies there were not too many of them. But let’s channel the spirit of the late Dick Fosbury and see if those backward steps can lead to greater things, before our festival is considered a total flop.

Today we have the big one. Out the gate, I’ll admit I’ve only backed the winner of the Gold Cup three times, all at short prices: Best Mate once and Kauto Star twice. I tend to look for better value unless I’m totally convinced of a horse at a shorter price. Even though that hasn’t worked out too well down the years.

The odds of the winners for the past 10 years are 3/1, 9/1, 100/30, 12/1, 5/1, 7/1, 9/4, 7/1, 20/1 and 11/4.

The last four winners have been Irish, two from Henry de Bromhead preceded by a double for Willie Mullins and Al Boum Photo. A Plus Tard swapped places with Minella Indo last year, moving from runner-up to first for Rachael Blackmore, when winning the race by 15 lengths.

I’ve never been to Cheltenham. I was once sent to Mallow and didn’t return for three days, hence the reluctance not to send me further afield.

One famous family story from 40 years ago is when my dad took his father-in-law to the festival. My granddad was a shrewd bettor, who pored over form and was most importantly, very lucky (he even made it on to Fame and Fortune). He bet a lot but never put a whole pile down.

Anyway this day in 1983, my father said to him he was thinking of backing Eliogarty in the Foxhunters Chase. My granddad shook his head and told him a woman would never win over the Gold Cup fences (the Foxhunters is contested over the same course and distance as the big race and is sometimes referred to as the “amateur Gold Cup”) so my dad decided to take his sage advice and back something else. English rider Caroline Beasley was on board Eliogarty, her own horse, which was trained in Clare and she guided him home to become the first female jockey to win at the festival. My dad found granddad after the race: “Well Jimmy. you called that one wrong.” My granddad unfolded his docket to show he’d backed it, much to my dad’s dismay and disgust.

Blackmore guided A Plus Tard home to become the first female jockey to win a Gold Cup (having made history at the Grand National the year before) 12 months ago and I fancy her doubling up with the Henry de Bromhead-trained champ. Willie Mullins is attempting to win the race with just his second horse following the two-timer with Al Boum Photo and has Galopin des Champs in as the 2/1 favourite.

The seven-year-old has won five of his six starts over fences to date, with his only defeat coming at last year’s festival when falling at the final fence with the Turners Novices’ Chase at his mercy. All going well, he probably will prevail but as a proven winner and because if you don’t get over all the jumps you don’t win, I’ll go for the bigger price on A Plus Tard to win again at 7/1.

Looking like a Slam dunk this weekend

SO Ireland have won another Grand Slam. And the first one in Dublin, with the previous wins being secured in Belfast, Cardiff, and Twickenham.

Does anyone even think that’s being presumptuous? Do England need to turn up?

I’ve always thought there’s no real joy to steamrolling England at rugby. It’s way more delectable when they think they are the better team and we turn them over.

Five years ago, they had an idea to stop us doing a Grand Slam, but failed miserably.

When England were clearly the best side in the Northern Hemisphere, in the late ’90s and early 00s, they had a habit of being tripped up near the line when trying to complete Slams.

That was until they arrived in Lansdowne Road 20 years ago, when we were also in the race to win it and absolutely hockeyed us.

Then they went on to win the World Cup later that year.

Not many of us travelled to that game two decades ago with a great deal of confidence (the most memorable moment for me was being happy-slapped by two rogues outside an Abrakebabra) and England fans will be in a similar position tomorrow.

The Red Rose was crushed in the French fist last weekend at Twickenham. While our lads put the best Scotland side to the sword in Murrayfield, despite dropping like flies on the field (the injuries reportedly led to the Irish squad laughing about it at half-time in the dressing room). They eased away to victory with a flanker throwing lineouts and a prop hooking in the scrum.

‘Ireland can’t handle the favourite’s tag’. ‘Ireland can’t deal with adversity’. Both have been proved wrong. Even those of us who grew up in an era when Irish players struggled with the simple facets of the game, like holding on to the ball when under minimal pressure, are now convinced.

They are 1/9 to win tomorrow. But now is the time to look towards the World Cup and concern ourselves with France and the All Blacks.

That we are 4/1 on what is almost certainly a four-horse race represents terrific value, considering the form they are in.

Happy Paddy’s Day — the annual event that fuels the Irish stereotype

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, that American comedic institution, which was funny sporadically in the late 70s and early 80s and very few times since, was the focus of some head-shaking here last weekend for portraying Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s accents as incomprehensible (and they “hadn’t even started drinking yet!” was the kicker).

Mary Lou MacDonald among others, wasn’t impressed. More of it came in the Oscars ceremony itself: “Five Irish actors are nominated tonight, which means the odds of another fight on stage just went way up.” Should we really care about this? Or should we just be glad they weren’t labelled ‘British’?

I remember getting this sort of stuff two decades ago living in England. Drinking. Fighting. Paddy. Leprechaun (I had an ill-advised beard). Ten years earlier I’d have had it much worse. But it never really bothered me. I always assumed whoever threw a jibe at me (which they presumed was harmless slagging) would eventually get a box from someone less laid-back than I was.

There is always the accusation that we bring it on ourselves (or on our elves, considering the amount of eejits who dress up in leprechaun outfits at sporting events abroad).

Our national holiday is Paddy’s Day so is it a huge leaping insult to be called one (a Mick is certainly worse)?

It is a day when an estimated 100 million people worldwide who claim to be Irish (“my mom was half-German; my dad was half-cut”), our emigrants, celebrate our rich heritage by singing folk songs and wearing traditional dress, such as ‘Kiss me I’m Irish’ T-shirts.

And these days, when a significant minority get so unreasonably upset about immigrants, it is worth remembering that our patron saint was one.

He was born in Wales. Or Scotland. Or France. Or Las Vegas. Nobody really knows. But as a youth he was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery by Niall of the Nine Hostages (or Niall and the Nine Sausages for readers still in senior infants), who was then the ruthless High King of Ireland. Niall sold Patrick to a farmer as a pigherd. The future saint lived with the pigs, ate from their swill and generally got to know them quite well.

But this wasn’t what Patrick wanted to do for the rest of his life. He had aspirations. He dreamed of becoming the first bishop of Ireland.

It’s not surprising that Christianity attracted Patrick, as it was still only 400 years old and was fashionable among young people then, a bit like Presbyterianism today.

One day, deciding it was time to start his training for the priesthood, he left a note for the pigs and headed for France. There he told Saint Germain that he wanted to become the bishop of Ireland and Germain told him to feck off, but said he would train him to become a priest. However, he still had a pagan name, so he picked a Christian name that he felt would be for a future bishop of Ireland, Paddy.

When he returned here he caught the public imagination by getting rid of the snakes. This is, of course, a myth. He only got rid of around three-quarters of them and to this day it is not advisable to go out after dark in rural Clare without reptile tongs.

Using the shamrock (symbolised the holy trinity of the father, the son and the hard spirits) and travelling from town to town on a float, he did convert a significant amount of Irish people and their pigs from paganism to Christianity, and every March 17 Irish people all over the world celebrate this by getting very, very “stereotypical”.

The Bet

A Plus Tard is 7/1 at time of writing, but if you fancy something a bit longer, Shark Hanlon's American National hero Hewick may not appreciate softer ground, but 50/1 are huge odds for him

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