With still more than a day’s Festival racing left, the screens flashed up at Cheltenham confirming that Ireland had an unassailable lead in the battle with the British to train the most Festival winners and had, therefore, retained the Prestbury Cup. Thursday finished 6/15 to the Irish and although the Festival ended with a slightly reduced margin of victory 11/17, there is no doubting on which side of the Irish Sea the balance of power lies.
This bare statistic, however, doesn’t tell the full story. All but two of Ireland’s victories were from either Gordon Elliott’s or Willie Mullins’ Yard, with a final result of 8/7 to Elliott.
If this duopoly is worrying, consider the concentration of ownership. Ignoring the Willie Mullins victories, there was only one Irish winner that didn’t race in the colours of Gigginstown Stud. Michael O’Leary owner of Gigginstown and a man who appears to relish playing the role of Pantomime villain, famously withdrew all his horses from the Mullins’ Yard due to an increase in training fees, and now largely favours Elliott to stable his large number of expensive thoroughbreds.
Whilst the big beasts of Anglo training, Nicky Henderson and Colin Tizzard, took the major Festival prizes, eight British trainers sampled the winner’s enclosure and none more than twice. The glory was also shared amongst a number of owners.
As the proud holder of an Irish passport, I am of course pleased that we won the Prestbury Cup and the dominance is all the more impressive when you consider that Ireland’s top jockey Ruby Walsh missed a majority of the four days, having aggravated a leg injury from which he had only returned to the saddle. However, it seems to me that so much power and money in the hands of so few isn’t good for the sport and it is actually British racing that is in the more healthy state.