Former bookie Donnelly holds impressive hand ahead of Supreme Novices' at Cheltenham Festival

Al Boum Photo won last year's Gold Cup in the colours of the Donnelly family - who could have another meeting to remember in 2020

Joe Donnelly has been around racing too long to think he holds all the cards - but you've still got to love his hand, writes James Toney.

The former bookmaker and wife Marie saw their black and yellow colours carried by victory by Al Boum Photo at last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Now they are looking to pick up from where they left off, with two horses vying for favouritism in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' - the race which fires the starting gun on the maddening, gladdening rollercoaster that is the Cheltenham Festival.

Many owners would have kept their horses apart but the Donnellys clearly like the sport of having their rising star novice hurdlers go at each other - and good for them, it would nice for some others to follow suit.

The couple have a taste for the finer things - making a fortune from selling a building on the Champs-Elysees and collecting works of art by Picasso and Matisse.

And they'd surely be no finer sight that seeing their two horses battle stride for stride to the line, in a tussle for the ages up Cheltenham's famous hill on Tuesday.

Shishkin, trained by Nicky Henderson, and Asterion Forlonge, a charge of Willie Mullins, are set to provide the first Anglo-Irish showdown of the week.

Henderson is just one race behind Mullins on the all-time trainer's standings too - it's a curtain-raiser humming with subplots.

Mullins has won the race more than any other trainer, saddling four of the last seven winners, with Tourist Attraction providing him with his very first of his 65 and counting Festival successes.

For a while it seemed he may not have a good shot at this year's race, until Asterion Forlonge produced one of the stand-out performances at the recent Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

You could almost sense Mullins' excitement afterwards - especially when he’d long considered three miles, not two, was his optimum trip.

It was proof that even for Mullins, a horse whisperer without parallel, sometimes things can get lost in translation.

"Credit to the owners, they just let us decide the best race for him, there was no other consideration about their other horse," said Mullins.

"He shows us so little speed at home but he's been electric and brilliant over shorter trips. He's got this huge cruising speed and he can keep up that gallop for two miles flat out.

"We all love to get a winner on the first day - any owner, trainer or jockey.

"This is a special race, the first of the week is always a good one to win, you can feel the relief, everyone just relaxes, it's almost like 'job done, let's really enjoy it now.'

"We've had some great success over the years and this one reminds me a lot of Champagne Fever - and we'd love the same result."

It's a quarter of a century since Mullins trained his first Festival winner - a 25-1 shot that was his only entry in the race, remarkable when you see the ammunition he's fired at the meeting in recent years.

Henderson's first winner was ten years before that and still he leads the way for home trainers - against the might of Mullins and fellow Irish handlers Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead.

Shishkin came into his novice hurdle season with some hype, only to fall in his first engagement at Newbury. His two wins since have come at a combined 22 lengths and Henderson likes his chances.

"He's a genuine two-miler, I've no doubt about his trip, when you press the button on him he just goes," said Henderson.

"He's got the gears you need and races very efficiently, he's got to be one of our best chances and that would really settle the nerves. He's done everything we need him to, so let's get the ball rolling and take the pressure off."