When it comes to jumps racing in the UK, all roads lead to the Cheltenham Festival, which effectively brings the curtain down on the season’s action.

It’s here that some of the most prestigious prizes in the sport are won, so it’s no surprise that many racehorse owners task their trainers with getting their horses fit and in prime condition for the Prestbury Park extravaganza.

For years, British horses and yards have dominated the Cheltenham Festival, but in the past decade or so there has been a remarkable reversal of fortunes – today, Ireland is the powerhouse of National Hunt racing, handing out some demoralising defeats to Great Britain in the Prestbury Cup; the trophy given to the nation with the most wins at the end of the four-day meeting.

So will Britain be able to restore parity any time soon?

Big game hunters

You can check the Cheltenham Festival racing odds today, with the ante-post markets amongst the favourites of punters. The Gold Cup, for example, which is one of the meeting’s most important races, is dominated by Irish-trained raiders with Galopin Des Champs (2/1), Gerri Colombe (6/1) and Shishkin (10/1) just three of note.

The horse racing tips for the Festival will also focus on Irish horses, such is their ability to win at Cheltenham – even if they haven’t even had a preparatory run on the course.

The Prestbury Cup is an excellent barometer of the sea change in fortunes for British and Irish racing. First contested in 2014, Great Britain won the first two editions before Ireland began their reign of terror – they have lifted the trophy every year since 2015, the only blemish on that record being the tied contest of 2019.

And as for the Gold Cup, the past ten editions have been won by Irish trained horses – of the two anomalies, the 2018 champion Native River was trained by a Brit, Colin Tizzard, but bred from Irish stock.

So the size of the task facing the administrators of British racing speaks for itself…

Ringing the Changes

So how do you set about redressing the balance?

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA), who are responsible for governing the sport in Great Britain, have been trying to find out. And the answer is right under their nose.

Irish racing is in such rude health that their trainers head to Cheltenham with both quality and quantity of horses at their disposal. The class of Irish thoroughbreds is evident from the sheer number of wins they pick up in major races, but the depth of the travelling hordes means that even in lower-grade races at the Festival, Ireland has a chance of picking up winners because there are so many of their contingent in the field.

In Great Britain, these ‘super’ training yards are in short supply – Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls and perhaps Dan Skelton are the trio carrying much of the burden for the Brits at the Cheltenham Festival.

The BHA has made moves to attract new finance to the sport, which in turn should (in theory) increase both the quality and quantity of racehorses on domestic soil. A commitment to enhancing prize money is a useful starting point; a move that should slow the worrying rise in the numbers of trainers closing their doors due to spiralling costs. Larger prize funds may also attract new investment into British racing.

The governing body has also rejigged the calendar, with key races repositioned in a bid to attract the best trainers and owners – the idea being that an increase in the quality of competition will ultimately raise the standards of British horses into the bargain.

It may take time for these changes to bear fruit, of course, so in the meantime it’s likely that Ireland will continue to dominate British racing.


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