As one of the biggest and most prestigious National Hunt festivals, the Cheltenham Festival consumes the horse racing world. With 28 races and hundreds of entries, it’s all to play for. The prize money is extraordinary with over £4.25 million up for grabs for those lucky enough to win or place in each race.
Aside from the cold hard cash on offer, there are also awards for the Leading Jockey and Trainer and they have largely been dominated by the Irish in recent years.
In 2020 the leading jockey was Paul Townend. Taking over from the now-retired Ruby Walsh as the main jockey for trainer Willie Mullins, he rode five winners. In the last 10 years, Ruby Walsh has won the title six times and in 2016 won an incredible seven races.
In terms of Trainers, over the last ten years, Willie Mullins has reigned supreme, winning seven times. Only Gordon Elliott (2018, 2017) and Nicky Henderson (2012) have managed to send out more winners in their respective years.
The Prestbury Cup
And that leads us nicely to the Prestbury Cup. While some honours go to individuals, this is the only one that goes to a team. It is the competition between Irish trained horses and British trained horses at the Cheltenham Festival.
Cumulatively, whichever of the two teams sends out the most winners from the 28 scheduled races wins the cup.
The rivalry may have been going on for decades but the Prestbury Cup only became official in 2014. It is awarded on the final day of the festival and the winner is declared when they reach fifteen winners or more.
It used to be 14 winners when there were only 27 races but with the introduction of another race in 2016, a tie for the award became possible. That happened in 2019 when both countries won 14 races each.
Prestbury Cup Winners
With the domination of both Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott at the Festival it’s no surprise that the Irish have won the Prestbury Cup more times than Great Britain. Since 2014, there have been six outright wins and one tie and they are as follows:
|2020||Ireland||17 Wins||10 Wins|
|2019||Tie||14 Wins||14 Wins|
|2018||Ireland||17 Wins||11 Wins|
|2017||Ireland||19 Wins||9 Wins|
|2016||Ireland||15 Wins||13 Wins|
|2015||Great Britain||13 Wins||14 Wins|
|2014||Great Britain||12 Wins||15 Wins|
So the Irish have ruled Cheltenham roost but can they do it again in 2021? Both teams have some phenomenal hurdlers and chasers primed to take to the course but anything can happen on the day…
2021 Race Favourites
A quick look through each of the races and one thing becomes very clear. Willie Mullins is the man to beat. Across all 28 races, a Willie Mullins trained horse is either the first or second favourite in 18 of them!
Of course while it is statistically possible that he could win all of them, it is highly unlikely. In his best year, he could only notch up eight wins and that was in 2015. But the chances are excellent that he could pull six or seven winners out of the bag which is probably why the bookies have him as the odds-on favourite to win the Leading Trainer again.
However, Willie Mullins cannot win the Prestbury Cup by himself. That’s where the likes of Henry De Bromhead, Gordon Elliott/Denise Foster, Noel Meade, and Joseph O’Brien come into play. Between them, it’s quite conceivable that they can bring a few winners and make up the 15 wins needed to take the cup.
But it won’t all be plain sailing. Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O’Neill, Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Dan Skelton, and the rest of the British trainers will be sending some fantastic runners to Cheltenham. While none may necessarily dominate they can, between them, easily reach 15 wins.
Ireland are the odds on favourites to win it again in 2021 but this is Cheltenham and anything can happen!