Elliott can spoil the party for Mullins
Bruce Jackson examines the battle of the stables
Who can break the stranglehold of Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson, winners of the leading trainer title at the Cheltenham Festival for the last seven years between them?
The answer could well be Gordon Elliott, the man who leads Mullins in their Irish championship duel and whose limits seem to know no bounds.
The 10-1 available about the County Meath maestro at the end of January has disappeared but the 6-1 with Paddy Power is still too long when you weigh up his contenders against those of 11-4 second-favourite Henderson.
It is possible this year's festival could be far more open than the previous four dominated by Mullins because of the stars the Closutton stable has lost.
The top trainer at the 28-race festival will probably need a minimum of five victories – and that brings us back to the dynamic Irish duo. Only Mullins and Elliott appear to have the firepower and leading contenders to have realistic hopes of so many winners at racing's Olympics.
Mullins is a top-priced 8-11 for the title, but if Melon lands the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' opener for him he will then be more like 1-3 with Vroum Vroum Mag, Douvan, Yorkhill, Un De Sceaux, Airlie Beach, Carter McKay and Djakadam to come.
Big hitters probably see 8-11 as value, but Elliott will be in there pitching with Death Duty, Empire Of Dirt, Apple's Jade and Diamond King among the class acts to go with big handicap favourites such as Tombstone, Squouateur and Jury Duty.
Henderson supporters will probably know their fate early as the festival's winningmost trainer, who came out on top most recently in 2010 and 2012, would need both Arkle hotpot Altior and one of his Champion Hurdle trio to win on day one – and even then nobody would be counting their money.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who was top dog the previous four years before the Mullins-Henderson monopoly thanks to stars such as Denman and Kauto Star, has admitted he does not have the class acts needed to top a Cheltenham table.
A case can be made for Colin Tizzard being overpriced at 33-1 but he lacks race coverage and would need a near-perfect festival to win five – and we know that does not happen.
If there were each-way betting he would be of interest with his Saturday horses having been prolific and with new patrons Alan and Ann Potts declaring that Cheltenham contenders are their priority.
There has been an overreaction to the bad luck Mullins and his team have suffered this season. The 8-11 about him retaining his festival crown is highly tempting but Elliott is taken to add his name to the roll of honour.