Cheltenham Festival: Is the writing on the wall for Britain again?

Ireland hammered Britain last year at the Cheltenham Festival and there's little chance there'll be much of a revival this year.

Paul Jacobs byline new

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The below may not be actual facts, but they are pertinent views and possibly also mirror the majority of racegoers and probably form the hardcore of punting practices when the Cheltenham Festival arrives next month. I wonder how many of them you agree with?

1.  Ireland have the best bloodstock to play with

2.  Ireland have four of the top five national hunt jockeys

3.  Ireland have three of the top five national hunt trainers

4. Irish trainers do a better job of laying their horses out for the handicaps at the festival even though they are nearly always given a higher handicap mark at Cheltenham than on home soil.

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We could all write a list of names for top trainers and jockeys and I suspect the majority of readers would fall in line with my top five. What went a long way to finalising the list of top jockeys is that Irish riders seem to flourish in the faster run races over the four days of the Festival run at a true Championship pace. They are simply better at making those split-second decisions and perhaps their judgement of pace overall is better than the British jockeys. The icing on the cake is that they tend to make less mistakes in the big races at those pivotal moments as well.

Not many people commented upon it at the time, but a prime example of the latter came in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

    Al Boum Photo versus Santini and Paul Townend versus Nico de Boinveille. Paul rode his mount to perfection, bringing him to the fore at the top of the hill and lifting the pace from that point onwards knowing his mount would comprehensively see out the exacting 3m2f trip. 

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    Nico, to a certain extent, was a prisoner to the strengths and weaknesses of Santini. He knew his mount was a very strong stayer but predictably so, his mount was outpaced coming down the hill making him play catch up from the home turn.

    But the key point came as the leaders rushed down to the last fence. Santini was gaining as they galloped up the final climb, the hill but Nico decided to try and go inside Paul Townend as he landed over the last obstacle.

    However, he had to take a pull to avoid a collision and lost at least half a length as he switched to the outer lane to renew his challenge, crucially losing momentum in the process.

    That was almost certainly the difference between victory and defeat as he was only beaten a closing neck! And that in a simplified nutshell is the difference between those on top from both nations!

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    So having laid out the cards with which GB has to play with, based mainly on the Championship races, I think that the home side start off at a distinct disadvantage, don’t you agree?

    The one early exception for me could come in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. I suspect Henderson will recommend that Constitution Hill runs in the Ballymore, but it is worth noting he has run two or more before in the curtain raiser. 

    Jonbon needed a race to make him a man and that came at Haydock Park last time out. Above everything else I think that he needs a fast pace to chase, which he hasn’t had in his brief career to date. It means he can use his top-class cruising speed to the max. Now that we know he finds under pressure I suspect he could add to Henderson’s tremendous record in the opening race of the jamboree.

    My brief synopsis of the five big races, is that I don’t think the Champion Chase is a two horse race with Nube Negra the value on spring ground at a double-figure price. The Stayers’ Hurdle is Flooring Porter’s to lose and barring a fall, the Ryanair is in Allaho’s back pocket.

    Ireland also have a strong percentage call to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup with the first four in the betting. And then there is Honeysuckle, who I don’t think is unbeatable, her finishing sectionals weren’t great at Leopardstown, but where is the British opposition? The other underappreciated factor is that ridiculous 7lbs mares allowance.

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    Add in the novice hurdles and chases and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Ireland could have a 14 – 2 lead in the graded races…… and then there are the handicaps to consider in which the Irish cleaned up in last year! 

    one last thing. One of the two top-five jockeys based in the UK is Irish and he won’t be riding at the Festival even though he is a mile clear in the UK jockey’s championship! For land of hope and glory…..simply read land of hope.

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