Why has there been a lack of ‘Northern’ winners at the Cheltenham Festival recently?

Mrs Sue Smith's string at work.

The last ‘Northern’ trained winner at the Cheltenham Festival was Hawk High – 33/1 winner of the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle in 2014. Whilst you have to go back to 2012 to find the last winner which was trained north of the border, with that being the Lucinda Russell trained Brindisi Breeze. This article will focus more closely on why there seems to have been a decline in recent years – and who the main northern hopes are this year. Follow our tips leading up to the Festival in our free betting tips section.

When did the decline begin?

Although you have to go back to Jodami in 1993, who was trained by Yorkshire based Peter Beaumont, to find the last ‘Northern’ based winner of the Gold Cup. There were successes in other Cheltenham Festival races by northern-based yards up to 2015 – where they experienced a rare blank year – and there have now been one-hundred and fifteen races since they last tasted success at the Festival.

A stronger challenge from across the Irish Sea?

In 2015, when the aforementioned Hawk High landed the Fred Winter, the Great Britain vs Ireland winners tally (or Prestbury Cup as it is now promoted) stood at a fairly close 15-12. This is a contrast to last year, however, where it was 11-17 in favour of the Irish. This shows that with the strength of the opposition increasing, it is providing fewer opportunities for some of the smaller British yards to compete at this meeting.

Who are their main hopes this year?

WAITING PATIENTLY – Ryanair Chase 11/2

Arguably the main ‘Northern’ hope comes from the Ruth Jefferson trained Waiting Patiently. Based in Norton, North Yorkshire this popular eight-year-old ran out an impressive winner of last season’s Grade 1 Ascot Chase (a race that he will likely bid to retain this Saturday). He had no luck in the King George when last seen in December, but connections have since confirmed that the Ryanair Chase is his main Festival target this year, and if ground conditions were to turn up on the easy side of good – or worse – he would have to come into serious consideration.

HIGHLAND HUNTER – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 33/1

As mentioned earlier in this article, Lucinda Russell was the last Scottish-based trained to have a winner at the Festival. That victory came in the 2012 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle with Brindisi Breeze, and she appears to hold outside claims in this year’s renewal with Highland Hunter. This Thomas Barr owned gelding was unbeaten over hurdles prior to his respectable third-place finish on handicap debut at Haydock last month. He stayed on powerfully that day, suggesting that the stiff finish in prospect at Cheltenham will suit, and he is another that seems to appreciate testing ground conditions.

LADY BUTTONS – Queen Mother Champion Chase 33/1

Philip Kirby continues to have an excellent season, and a horse in his care that is currently thriving is the mare Lady Buttons. This daughter of Beneficial is unbeaten from her four starts so far this season; winning twice over fences and twice over hurdles, with her latest success coming in a Grade 2 hurdle at Doncaster. She looks a better horse over fences, however, and although she will likely have the unenviable task of facing Altior in this contest, it would certainly not be a major surprise to see her run into a place.

DEFINITLY RED – Cheltenham Gold Cup 25/1

Could this years Cheltenham Gold Cup go to a northern-based stable? Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red was sent off at odds of just 8/1 for this race last season, but he could only finish a distant sixth. Connections have given him a much lighter campaign this term, however, and he makes his return from a 68-day break today in the Malcolm Jefferson Memorial Chase at Kelso – see how we think he will get on in our Kelso betting tips page.

You can read all of our Cheltenham Festival tips in our Cheltenham betting tips page.

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