DISCLAIMER: ODDS AND ARTICLE UPDATED 07/03/2019, 13:20.
Ireland's 17-11 win in the 2018 Prestbury Cup was a quite incredible victory given their comparable lack of runners compared to the vanquished GB team. Despite that, there is plenty of optimism that the home team can this year win back the Cup from Ireland.
It would be fair to say that over the last decade four trainers have stood head and shoulders above any of their counterparts where the Festival is concerned. They are Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, from Ireland, and Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls of Great Britain.
Mullins’ dominance truly took hold in that most memorable day one of 2015 when Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Glens Melody all scored; Annie Power’s fate needs no recall. Mullins would saddle a total of eight winners the following year, and seven in 2017, as he sealed four consecutive Festival top trainer titles.
In 2018, he was finally deposed as top trainer by Gordon Elliott, whose eight winners equalled Mullins’ 2016 record. In 2019, however, we face rather unfamiliar territory. Gone are Mullins’ traditional Supreme and Arkle bankers on day one. He doesn’t have the hand he usually does in the Gold Cup and races such as the Bumper and Martin Pipe, which he routinely mops up, look likely to go elsewhere.
Conversely to Mullins, Paul Nicholls has had a quiet few years since the glory days of Denman, Kauto Star, Master Minded and Big Buck’s. Nicholls, however, had had quite the renaissance in the 2018/19 season and actually leads the Champion Trainer standings, as he bids for an 11th title.
Nicholls’ King George hero Clan Des Obeaux is disputing favouritism in the Gold Cup. The master of Ditcheat has fancies throughout the meeting also, with the likes of Grand Sancy, Topofthegame and Frodon in Grade Ones and a host of handicappers, with his record in Festival handicap hurdles exceptional.
Elliott’s team is as strong and deep as 2018 although winning eight races again is surely unlikely. Apple’s Jade, Tiger Roll and Dallas Des Pictons are just a small selection of his best chances, and in many of the races he will be mob-handed. He certainly warrants his place as favourite for the Festival Top trainer award once again.
Nicky Henderson was deposed by Mullins as the most successful trainer in Festival history last year, but he has an exceptionally strong 2019 team, with Festival banker Altior joined by the likes of Santini, Ok Corral, Buveur D’Air and Epatante - all likely to go off favourites for their respective races.
Of course, the meeting isn’t about just four trainers but they will go a long way to deciding the Prestbury Cup. Bankers elsewhere rather offset. For every Sir Erec there is a Paisley Park. For every Arkle (GB) there is a Ryanair (Ireland), so there really shouldn’t be a great deal in the race for the Prestbury Cup. Team GB, however, are priced at 13/8 to land the spoils and those odds make plenty of appeal for what looks virtually a coin toss at this moment in time.
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