Willie Mullins may be shorn of some stable stars but once again he will strike fear into the hearts of both bookies and rivals at the Cheltenham Festival which starts on Tuesday.

The 60-year-old Irish training great arrives at the challenging Cotswolds racecourse for jump racing's showpiece after a more trying season than usual.

But it says a lot about the yard's strength and his resilience that he remains odds-on favourite to emerge as champion trainer.

This despite Mullins losing 60 odd horses pre-season in a row over training fees with Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary, his outstanding Vautour being put down and both the last two Champion Hurdle winners Annie Power and Faugheen ruled out through injury.

Other headline names missing this week through injury or retirement are Nicky Henderson'sSprinter Sacre, Thistlecrack, Coneygree and last season's Gold Cup winner Don Cossack.

Aside from the trainer's title bookmakers are braced for their annual battle with punters. Betting turnover is forecast to reach £400 million ($487mn) over the four days.

And bookies will be praying for better luck than last year, when nine winning favourites led to Ladbrokes chief Jim Mullen labelling Cheltenham 2016 as "the worst in living memory".

Adding to the spice of the week is the rivalry between the Irish and the English with the former only too happy to put one across their historic rivals.

"Racing is just special to Irish people, especially jump racing," Mullins told SportsJoe website in 2015.

"An Irish horse going over there to beat the Old Enemy at their own game in their own backyard is always special."

streetwise campaigner

Mullins, who inherited the training gene from father Paddy who was most famously associated with Dawn Run, has dominated the Champion Hurdle recently winning four of the past six editions of the opening day's feature.

However, like many great coaches, trainers or athletes there is one glaring omission from his credits, in his case the Gold Cup - chasing's blue riband which his family are forever linked to thanks to Dawn Run's emotional triumph.

He is counting on Djakadam to go one better in Friday's feature after finishing twice runner-up to take the trainer's tally of near misses to six.

"I know my horse is good enough to finish second the last two years, and we just need the ball bouncing in our favour a little bit more," he told The Guardian.

"It would be nice to win that. We'll see," said Mullins, whose first winner at the Festival dates back to Tourist Attraction in 1995 from whence another 40 have come along.

Mullins has further reason to think this might be his year with pre-race favourite Thistlecrack one of the notable absentees.

His trainer Colin Tizzard, though, is still two-handed with the impressive Hennessy and Welsh Grand National winner Native River and the hoary old streetwise campaigner Cue Card, who would be cheered to the rafters if he was to win.

Tizzard, a dairy farmer who tried his hand at training only to find he was rather good at it and now has over 100 horses, has just the five Festival winners to his credit and says there is no exact science to having success there.

"There’s an awful amount of luck in it," said the 61-year-old Englishman.

"A lot of the top trainers have top agents paying good money for horses, and they're good trainers with the best jockeys, and they haven’t got Grade One winners.

"Why's that? It's got to be luck."

This year's Gold Cup features Lizzie Kelly, the first woman jockey to ride in the race in 33 years. The only female to win a Grade I jumps race partners 66-1 shot Tea For Two.

So much rides on the four days for trainer, jockey, owner, horse and punter alike that for the younger generation of handlers like Dan Skelton, son of Olympic show jumping gold medalist Nick, it is almost too much as he told The Times.

"The Festival defines your year.

"It is almost too important."