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Destined to make impact on big stage; 16 DONN McCLEAN.

WITH the Cheltenham Festival just a week away, here are five names from Ireland who could make a big impact for the first time at the four-day spectacular...

Paul Townend Okay, so Townend isn't exactly new, but he is a kid, and he most certainly is on the block, that is if you consider the leader of the jockeys' championship to be on the block. But have a look at his cv and spot the glaring omission: a Cheltenham Festival winner.

It is difficult to believe that Townend is still just 20 years old, or that his win on Hurricane Fly in the Royal Bond Hurdle in November 2008 was his first ride in a Grade 1. Not only does it seem like he has been around for ages, but his style in the saddle and the confidence he exudes belies his youthfulness. Townend is not Ruby Walsh yet, but he is Ruby-esque. His passiveness in the saddle, do as little as you can for as long as you can, is Walsh all over.

This could be the year that Townend breaks his festival duck. Of course, a lot depends on what Willie Mullins runs where, and on how Walsh does the Willie Mullins-Paul Nicholls split, but Townend could ride Golden Silver in the Champion Chase, Quel Esprit or Mikael D'Haguenet in the RSA Chase, Final Approach or Blackstairmountain in the County Hurdle, Gagewell Flyer or Allee Garde in the Albert Bartlett, So Young, Day Of A Lifetime or Zaidpour in the Neptune or the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, depending on how they fall, as well as Unaccompanied for Dermot Weld in the Triumph Hurdle. And Hurricane Fly? Mr Mullins ain't sayin'.

John 'Shark' Hanlon Ask a cross-section of Irish racegoers what Shark Hanlon's Christian name is and a large percentage will look at you blankly. Ask them if he can train racehorses though, and they will nod knowingly. Why do you think he is called Shark? The fact that the roots of his name can be traced back to a hurling pitch rather than a racecourse is neither here nor there - why would you ever let the truth get in the way of a good yarn? - because Hanlon is as sharp and as wily as they make them. He resisted the temptation to bring Luska Lad to Cheltenham last year, even though he won the Grade 2 Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park as a novice in February, and he said a long time ago that his hugely exciting dual Grade 2 winner Hidden Cyclone wouldn't be travelling this year and was a staying chaser for the future.

Therefore, the fact that Hanlon is allowing Leopardstown winner Star Neuville to take his chance in the Cheltenham Bumper, his only runner for the week, with AP McCoy tentatively booked, should be treated with the significance that it deserves.

Gordon Elliott One of the most upwardly mobile young trainers in Ireland, Gordon Elliott has trained a Grand National winner and achieved legendary status in Perth, but he has yet to lead one in to the amphitheatre that is the winner's enclosure at the festival. This year, he has assembled his strongest ever team, headed by Jessies Dream (RSA Chase), Chicago Grey (National Hunt Chase), Dirar (County Hurdle), Beautiful Sound (Kim Muir possibly) and Plan A (Fred Winter Hurdle), backed up by a strong supporting cast.

Moyglare Stud A name more synonymous with Flat racing than National Hunt, it has taken Moyglare supremo Walter Haefner 101 years to be convinced to allow one of his horses over a couple of obstacles, and the result has been quite predictable.

A dual winner on the Flat over a mile, Unaccompanied is now two from two over hurdles and the performance the Danehill Dancer filly put up when winning the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last month marked her down as the best juvenile hurdler in Ireland.

It is 21 years since Dermot Weld sent out Rare Holiday to win the Triumph Hurdle and the Panama hats will be thrown in the air if Unaccompanied can bridge that gap.

Montjeu Montjeu has never sired a winner at the festival. More than that, he has never sired a winner at any Cheltenham meeting. However, this could be the year for the sire of Motivator, Authorized, Fame And Glory and Hurricane Run.

He has gone close in the past - the ill-fated Alexander Severus travelled like a winner to the final flight in the 2009 Fred Winter Hurdle and Noble Prince was hampered at the penultimate flight last year when holding every chance in the County Hurdle - but he has never had a monster like Hurricane Fly flying his flag in the Champion Hurdle, with Noble Prince as a solid back-up in the Jewson. They said that Sadler's Wells couldn't sire a Derby winner before Galileo came along? They also said the world was flat.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Mar 8, 2011
Words:819
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