The Cheltenham Festival – Prestbury Cup Challenge
The Irish love affair with the Cheltenham Festival began in earnest when Vincent O’Brien’s Cottage Rake secured three consecutive Gold Cup victories in the 1940s. Over the years, the Emerald Isle began sending more and more raiders to the meeting and it reached a nadir in 2013.
For the first time in the Festival’s 102-year history, the Irish earned more winners than Great Britain’s trainers, and that prompted the organisers to launch the Prestbury Cup to add some intrigue to the rivalry.
What is the Prestbury Cup?
The Prestbury Cup is a straight battle between Great Britain and Ireland to gain the most winners during the Cheltenham Festival in March. All races are considered equal in this competition, so winning the Grade 1 Gold Cup is just as important as winning the ungraded Fox Hunter Chase on the final day.
It is named after Prestbury Park, the location of Cheltenham Racecourse.
When did The Prestbury Cup start?
The Prestbury Cup began life in 2014, in response to Ireland securing 14 winners to the Great Britain’s 13 the previous year. It is designed to be a bit like the Ryder Cup, and it adds an extra degree of intrigue on top of an already exciting National Hunt meeting.
What is the current Prestbury Cup records?
Great Britain won the first ever Prestbury Cup in 2014 with a 15-12 scoreline, and successfully defended the trophy in 2015, when they won 14-13.
In 2016 a 28th race was added to the card, allowing for the possibility of a draw, and it duly finished 14-14. Ireland were well ahead, but a late Paul Nicholls smash and grab clinched a tie on the final day for Great Britain.
Heading into the 2017 Prestbury Cup, Great Britain was the heavy favourite, while Ireland were a massive 11/2 underdog. But the Irish made an absolute mockery of those odds by delivering a landslide victory.
They won it 19-9 in the end, and it was all over after with five races to spare as Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins proved unstoppable.
The record now stands at two wins for Great Britain, one for Ireland and one draw, so it is delicately poised heading into the 2018 Festival.
Who are Great Britain’s best trainers?
Great Britain’s reigning champion trainer is Nicky Henderson and he leads the way this year too, with 108 wins. Henderson has been named top trainer at Cheltenham three times before and he holds the record for the most wins of all-time at the Festival with 58.
Nicholls is running Henderson close in the champion trainer stakes this year and he has been the dominant force in the modern era, with 10 wins in the last 12 years. Henderson won the other two.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, Dan Skelton and Colin Tizzard are the other three heavyweight Great British trainers to look out for at this year’s Festival.
Who are Ireland’s best trainers?
Mullins is the main man for Ireland and he has dominated the champion trainer award in his homeland for the last decade. He is now only four wins behind Henderson in the all-time stakes at the Cheltenham Festival, despite beginning his career 10 years later. He looks set to one day become the most successful trainer in the Festival’s history, but Henderson will not relinquish his crown without a fight.
But Mullins has a great rival in Ireland in the form of Elliott, who was named the leading trainer at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. That ended a four-year winning streak for Mullins, but ensured an Irishman has won the prize for the last five years in a row.
Who are Great Britain’s best hopes for Cheltenham?
Henderson has the favourites in the big races: Might Bite heads the betting for the Gold Cup, Altior is odds-on to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Buveur d’Air is the favourite for the Champion Hurdle. Apple’s Shakira and Top Notch also stand out among Henderson’s charges, and he is the second favourite to be named leading trainer.
Who are Ireland’s best hopes for Cheltenham?
Last year we witnessed a fascinating battle between Elliott and Mullins in the race to be named leading trainer. Elliott looked to have it sewn up after day three, but Mullins roared back on the final day with four winners.
They ended up with six apiece, but Elliott scraped the win because he had more places over the four days of the Festival.
These two masterful trainers are set to fight it out once again this year and that can only be good for Ireland’s chances of retaining the Prestbury Cup.
Right now, Mullins saddles the ante post favourite or joint favourite in eight of the 28 Cheltenham Festival races, and seven of his charges are second favourites. Elliot meanwhile is responsible for five favourites and he has four second favourites.
That is a collective show of strength from the Irish and they look like a good bet to retain the Prestbury Cup.