Andrew of Fiosrach
Over the last few years the media have made the annual Cheltenham Festival a battleground between Britain and Ireland, calling out each winner for their respective jurisdictions, and hyping up the rivalry.
This is not something I would have paid too much attention to – that is, until the last few years, when Irish-trained winners have dominated, as the numbers below illustrate:
Britain has not won the Prestbury Cup since 2015, albeit managing a tie in 2019, but the last few years have really seen Ireland dominate with 58 wins versus Britain’s 25 at the last three festivals.
That represents a 70% winning strike rate for Ireland, so is that where we should focus our betting for the 2023 festival?
Legendary former jockey Ruby Walsh, who guided 59 Festival winners home between 1998 and 2019, recently stated that he believes that the surge of Irish winners is cyclical, and that the period of dominance will swing back to Britain over the next few years.
I am not convinced by that argument, as the strength in depth of the Mullins, Elliott and De Bromhead yards means that even if a couple of leading lights do not make the Festival through injury, they have ample able deputies – unlike their British counterparts.
The Irish stables are particularly strong in the novice division, and I would expect them to pick up most of the winners there again this year.
I have gone through the twenty eight races and tried to pick the origin of the winner for each race and my expected outcomes are as follows:
If I am correct (and bear in mind that the result could just as easily be 18-10), then Britain will have their best tally since 2019 and I expect Britain to win at least two of the Championship races – namely the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase.
Paul Nicholls appears to have his best chance of landing a few Festival winners since the days of Kauto Star, Denman, Big Bucks and Master Minded.
Nicky Henderson also has a reasonable hand with Constitution Hill and Luccia likely winners, while Dan Skelton and Alan King are also in line to saddle at least one winner each, so perhaps it’s not going to be quite the doom and gloom of recent years.
British lights are sure to shine in places, but I do still anticipate an Irish win in the Prestbury Cup, and we can also expect Willie Mullins to dominate the trainers’ prize.
That said, luck also plays a part in horse racing, of course, so nothing is set in stone.