The Cheltenham Festival is the greatest racing week of the year with unmatched hype and interest in the four fantastic days of National Hunt action in the Cotswolds in mid-March.
It’s the coming together of the best talents from Britain and Ireland to compete for the most sought-after prizes in the sport and it has long served as a source of national pride for these two competitive neighbours.
Since 2014, the battle for supremacy at the Cheltenham Festival has become ‘official’ with Britain and Ireland competing for the Prestbury Cup.
Prestbury Cup Is Born
The Irish have a long and storied history when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival and the hordes of racegoers that make the pilgrimage to the Gloucestershire countryside annually is testament to that.
There has been a long-standing friendly rivalry between the two nations and, at times, patriotic punting patterns emerge as a result.
The Prestbury Cup, named after the nearest village to Cheltenham Racecourse, is presented to jockeys and trainers from Ireland or Britain once the winning country is confirmed. The Cup itself has been sealed with some hallowed Cheltenham turf, so the winning country will be taking a little bit of Cheltenham with them.
The competition between the British and Irish trainers was made official in 2014 when the Prestbury Cup was awarded for the first time.
In order to secure it, one of the nations has to win 15 or more of the 28 races on offer during Festival week, with both nations winning 14 apiece ending up in a tie.
Of course, there is the proviso that French-trained winners can skew that view of the competition and, back in 2015 in the second year of the competition, Britain won 14-13 as the lone French winner helped split the heavyweight combatants.
Ireland’s Era of Domination
The arrival of the Prestbury Cup has coincided with an unprecedented era of Irish success.
After nine renewals of the competition, the score shows Ireland in the lead by 6-2, with one stalemate in 2019 when it ended 14-all.
Britain won the first two Prestbury Cups in 2014 & 2015 but haven’t tasted outright victory since.
Amongst Ireland’s glory years came the 2021 ‘greenwash’ as the handed Britain a landslide 23-5 defeat, which included an Irish 1-2-3 in the Gold Cup.
In 2022, the host nation recovered to a degree, doubling their tally as Ireland won 18-10 to equal their best-ever three-in-a-row Prestbury Cup tally.
All Things in Racing Are Cyclical
Across the nine years of action that the Prestbury Cup has been in existence for, there have been 250 races in total. Of those, the Irish have won 148 and the British have won 101, with just one race being won by a French-trained horse.
That gives Ireland a 59 per-cent win rate at the Cheltenham Festival since 2014, a hugely impressive tally for the raiders.
It was not always this way and, as things tend to happen in sport, the balance of power will one day switch to British shores in this burgeoning battle for jumps racing pride and glory.
The best horses are currently being sent to Ireland, owing much to the powerhouse trainers that are Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
With Paul Nicholls resurgent this season and trainers like Dan Skelton, Sam Thomas and Olly Murphy continuing to rise in the game, Britain will have hopes that they can rise to Prestbury Cup success again in the near future.
Like everything at Cheltenham in March, this honour will always be hard won!