Over the years, the Cheltenham Festival has witnessed some fantastic rivalries between the host nation and their cross-Irish Sea counterparts. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that the contest between the British and the Irish was officially recognised with a piece of silverware— with the Prestbury Cup introduced as another angle of interest.
The trophy stayed on home soil for the first two renewals, with Britain narrowly winning 15-12 and 14-13 respectively. But aside from a tie in 2019, Ireland have dominated proceedings since — including recording a humbling 23-5 victory at the behind-closed-doors Festival in 2021, which left many high-profile figures involved with British racing furious.
The hosts pulled it back to a more respectable 18-10 last year, but the difference between the pair is still stark — with Ireland a massive 1/10 to retain the Prestbury Cup for a fourth-straight year in the horse betting. Many industry experts are predicting a similar margin of victory for the Irish contingent this year, so read on as we take a look at the key areas of interest.
The feature races
In the grand scheme of things, the five feature races don’t play a massive part in the Prestbury Cup as they are just a small percentage of the meeting’s 28 races. But they are the ones that both nations want to win, and when Ireland have made a habit of winning the majority of them in recent years — including all five last season — then it’s going to make the task hard for the Brits.
Interestingly, the Championship races at this year’s appear to have a more even split — with Constitution Hill and Shishkin the favourites for the Champion Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase, while Energumene, Blazing Khal and Galopin Des Champs are tipped for the Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Gold Cup.
Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill and Shishkin look nailed on for victory for the respective races, but Energumene isn’t the most convincing favourite in the Champion Chase and faces two serious British rivals in the form of Edwardstone and Editeur Du Gite. The Stayers’ Hurdle also looks pretty open, but the market is dominated by Irish runners.
Then there’s the unpredictability of the Gold Cup. Galopin Des Champs is one of the shortest favourites in recent years and should have enough star quality about him to see off the rest of the challengers, but the third favourite and King George winner Bravemansgame could swoop in.
The remaining Grade 1s
With 14 Grade 1s — including the five feature races — making up half of the 28 races at the Festival, it’s imperative that the Brits don’t allow the Irish a landslide in the remaining nine top-level contests since they look likely to at least keep it in the balance when you factor in those Championship races.
However, that looks unlikely as Ireland boast the favourite in all but one of the other Grade 1s — with Hermes Allen the only horse flying the flag for Britain in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, and even then the Paul Nicholls-trained horse is set to face a whole host of serious Irish challengers, including Impaire Et Passe, Gaelic Warrior and Champ Kiely from Closutton.
Some of those Irish favourites will be turned over, of course, but it’s unlikely to be enough to make this a close race for the Prestbury Cup.
Finally, there are the handicaps. There are nine of these at the Festival and theoretically speaking, they are meant to be even contests. But looking at the favourites, it is 8-1 to the Irish again — with Gary Moore’s Nassalam the market leader for the Ultima Handicap Chase.
What’s more damning is the fact that the majority of the other cards not only have Irish favourites, but are also dominated by runners from the Emerald Isles. In fact, Irish runners make up the top three in the betting in a whopping six of the nine handicaps. That’s going to take some stopping!