The Cheltenham Festival takes place next week and here at The Irish Horse, we are lucky enough to have friends in high places. We went behind the scenes at Fairyhouse Racecourse last week where we heard some experts lay their horses-to-follow Cheltenham cards on the table.

On a five-strong panel, Mark Costello from The Irish Field quizzed Ronan Groome and Mark Boylan, from the same paper, and former Cheltenham Festival-winning jockeys Denis O’Regan and Robbie Power.

And we're off

Mark Costello: Let’s start with Mark Boylan, who has been writing regular statistical analysis pieces about Cheltenham in recent weeks. We’re not going to go through every race at the Festival but maybe you could pick out a few interesting nuggets you have uncovered?

Mark Boylan: I think one of the big talking points is where Willie Mullins divides his novice hurdlers. Ballyburn is 50:50 between the Supreme (Tuesday) and the Baring Bingham (Wednesday). If Ballyburn goes for the latter, Tullyhill is going to be a short price for the former and that is interesting because he will have to defy a 23-day turnaround, and that is a rare thing.

I think Go Native did it when he won the Supreme in 2009 but since then 150 horses have tried and only one has been successful in that turnaround in a Supreme, Baring Bingham or an Albert Bartlet. That was Labaik and he actually refused at the start in his prep race, so it really is uncommon. Willie has been able to win at the Festival with horses in the same short turnaround. Quevega was one and Burning Victory was another, but Quevega was just much better than her opposition and Burning Victory was a very lucky winner on the day, with Goshen stumbling at the last when clear. So where are we with Tullyhill? Is he superior to Quevega? I’d have concerns on that front so he could be one to take on. I think wherever Ballyburn goes, he will be banker material.

Mark Costello: Denis, what are your thoughts on the Arkle Chase? It’s interesting that the last Arkle winner who didn’t win on his run before the Festival was ridden by you - Tidal Bay in 2008.

Denis O’Regan: I would probably back up that statistic. I think you would want to be winning coming into the race. But there’s so many question marks over even the likes of Il Etait Temps who won the Dublin Racing Festival. He’s a very good solid jumper but he doesn’t appeal to me to be an Arkle winner for some reason, even though he is trained by Willie Mullins and has plenty going for him.

Found A Fifty is another contender but I don’t think he will handle the track.

I’ve gone off Facile Vega completely because he’s disappointed me in two runs. I believe there’s actually value in some of the English runners here; JPR One was very impressive back in November. Of the other Irish horses, I’d give Quilixios a very good each-way chance.

Novice chasers

Ballyburn and Donal Redmond working the gallops at the recent Willie Mullins Cheltenham Press Morning. \ Healy Racing

Mark Costello: Robbie Power, let’s stick with the novice chasers. You’ve won the Brown Advisory (Wednesday) before on Boston’s Angel. It looks a good renewal this year with Fact To File, Stay Away Fay and Grey Dawning - what do you like in the race?

Robbie: Fact To File. I was very, very impressed with him in Leopardstown. I think stepping up to three miles is going to suit him. He jumps really well, I think he will be very hard to beat. He’s a much better horse than Stay Away Fay. Monty’s Star is a horse who Henry [de Bromhead, trainer] likes a lot and he has improved for going over fences. Is he up to Fact To File’s standard? I’d have a question mark, but I could see him definitely being placed.

Mark Costello: Mark, you’ve been all over this mare Brighterdaysahead all season. She is going to take on Jade De Grugy and Dysart Enos in one of the clashes of the week in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on Thursday. Are you still keeping the faith?

Mark Boylan: I actually can’t remember placing an ante-post bet earlier in my life than the one on Brighterdaysahead. She’s so impressive physically, she’s bred to be a champion as well. She’s a half-sister to Mighty Potter, Caldwell Potter, Indiana Jones, French Dynamite, it’s an incredible pedigree. I think in a normal year of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle she would be odds-on, and I think she would win. This looks a much better race than you would usually get but I still think that it’s going to take a serious one to beat her. Jade De Grugy does very little wrong and Dysart Enos is well respected in British quarters as well but I think they’ll have a serious task on their hands to get the better of Brighterdaysahead. She will be very close to banker material for me.

Mark Costello: Ronan, you like Jade De Grugy in the same race?

Ronan: I’m a big fan of her. I was at Leopardstown when she won at Christmas. She was in a different league against geldings on her debut - winning by 15 lengths. She did it very professionally here at Fairyhouse then for her Grade 3. Brighterdaysahead is much respected but the hype train has well and truly started rolling - they can’t see her beaten in Gordon Elliott’s yard. I think it will be a closer run thing and maybe you’ll get a nicer price for Jade De Grugy on the day.

Brighterdaysahead and Jack Kennedy win the Grade 3 Feathered Lady Mares Novice Hurdle at Down Royal in November. \ Healy Racing

Triumph hurdle

Mark Costello: Ronan, all the Triumph Hurdle chat is centred around Nicky Henderson’s Sir Gino but you were at Leopardstown when Kargese won the Spring Juvenile Hurdle for Willie Mullins. Surely, she must be a bit of value here at 7/1?

Ronan: I’m not sure. That race was a bit of a muddle. Willie had the first four home, they all finished within five lengths of each other and Willie seemed to be keener to talk about the horse in third, Majborough - I think he’ll come in for a bit of support. You’re right, the Spring Juvenile is usually a fantastic trial for the Triumph but usually the horses that come from it don’t have to take on a horse like Sir Gino. When he won at Cheltenham on Trials Day, he did a quicker time than Lossiemouth and everyone is saying she is an absolute banker on day one. Sir Gino put up a serious performance for a juvenile hurdler.

Mark Costello: Robbie, you are racing manager for Robcour, owners of Stayers’ Hurdle [Thursday] favourite Teahupoo. Will he win?

Robbie: A lot will depend on the ground. If there was an ease in the ground I’d be very strong on Teahupoo.

Mark Boylan: It would be Teahupoo for me, but if he did falter I’d nearly take a chance on Noble Yeats. He is just that dour type of stayer who you see getting placed at a price.

Mark Costello: The Gold Cup [Friday] has a very strong favourite in Galopin Des Champs, Robbie, Robcour run two in the race - Gerri Colombe and Gentlemansgame. What’s the latest news on them?

Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs and Adam Connolly on the gallops at Willie Mullins' Closutton yard. \ Healy Racing

Robbie: They are both in very good form. I was just chatting to [trainer] Mouse Morris and Gentlemansgame is exactly where he wants him, probably a bit ahead of schedule. I think he’s got a great chance; the one negative is that he’s got so little experience.

The same applies to Gerri Colombe. He’s like a GAA minor star stepping up to senior level. He made that step-up in Down Royal when he beat Envoi Allen but then Galopin Des Champs put him in his place in Leopardstown. I know Gordon [Elliott, trainer] feels that ‘Gerri’ didn’t run his race in Leopardstown but even if he improves 10lb, he’s still going to be beaten eight lengths by Galopin Des Champs. He would need everything to go right for him on the day.

Best bets of the week

Denis: Sir Gino in the Triumph Hurdle on Friday is my banker. I expect Ballyburn and Firefox to be first and second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday if they both run. Also keep an eye on The Yellow Clay in the Bumper on Wednesday.

Mark Boylan: I’ll stick with Brighterdaysahead on Thursday but I’d struggle to see Fact To File getting beaten wherever he goes.

Ronan: I will go with Crebilly in the Plate on Thursday. Trained by Jonjo O’Neill for JP McManus, he is unexposed and potentially very well handicapped.

Robbie: Envoi Allen in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday. He’ll take all the beating unless it comes up a bog. I hope that Facile Vega runs in the Turners Novices’ Chase on the same day; I think he’ll win. I’m also really looking forward to Minella Indo in the Cross-Country on Wednesday. He always runs well at Cheltenham.