One of the less-recognised trophies up for grabs at Cheltenham this week, will be the highly coveted Prestbury Cup. Unlike all the other contests this week, this Cup will be won by a Country, as trainers from the UK will battle it out against their Irish counterparts to see which country will have the most winners during the festival.
With 27 races spread over four days of action, the winning country will have to amass 14 winners in order to claim the trophy outright and as it’s not just UK and Irish based horses who are competing, there is the possibility of it being a draw. In a sport renowned for punter participation, this has become quite a popular Cheltenham betting market, so let’s look at some of the key factors which could decide the destination of the Prestbury Cup in 2016.
Last year, thanks mainly to the exploits of the incredible Willie Mullins, Ireland secured the 14 winners necessary to win the competition. Mullins won four out of the seven races on the first day, ending the week with eight, meaning he earned over half of Ireland’s winners on his own. This year could be a similar story, with more than 60 runners being sent from Mullins’ yard alone. Add to this likely contenders from other Irish trainers, like Gordon Elliot, Jonjo O’Neill and Henry De Bromhead, then it’s understandable why they are considered by many as favourites to retain the trophy.
The bookies on the other hand, have different ideas. The UK are currently 4/6 favourites to win back the Prestbury Cup, with Ireland a 13/8 shot and a 6/1 best price on it ending a tie. Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson will once again spearhead the UK bid, with two of the season’s standout trainers in Philip Hobbs and Colin Tizzard, backing them up as much as possible.
Although the UK has more high quality yards to pick up points from, the Irish stables currently have more overwhelming favourites who look certainties to get their country off to a winning start. Min (2/1), Douvan (2/5), Annie Power (9/4) and Vroum Vroum Mag (11/10) could make it a repeat of last years first day heroics for Mullins. Un De Sceaux (3/4) and Limini (10/11) are odd-on Mullins runners later in the week, with Jonjo O’Neill’s More Of That (9/4) a strong favourite for the RSA. The list of possible UK bankers is a lot shorter, with Alan King’s Yanworth (11/8), Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack (6/5) and Ben Pauling’s Barters Hill (9/4) the only UK runner’s you could consider to be heavy favourites for their chosen races.
If the UK are to regain the Prestbury Cup, they will be hoping the handicaps come to their rescue and will need a bit of luck in the other races, as they are to take down Willie Mullins and the rest of his Irish comrades. But as things stand, the smart money will be with the Irish.