SETTING THE SCENE: The Cheltenham Festival

SETTING THE SCENE: The key facts and figures ahead of the four-day meeting at Prestbury Park

The Cheltenham Festival is less than a week away and with over 250,000 fans expected to descend on Prestbury Park for the first time since 2020, the atmosphere will be electric.

Across the four days there are some fascinating looking clashes. Can Energumene turn the tables on his Ascot conqueror Shishkin in the Champion Chase? Will A Plus Tard go one better in this year’s Gold Cup? Is Allaho the banker of the meeting? And can extraordinary mare Honeysuckle land a second Champion Hurdle?

As those questions suggest Ireland look set to continue the domination that saw them win 23 of the 28 races on offer at last year’s Festival to retain the Prestbury Cup.

Since the first inauguration of the trophy in 2014, the score stands at 107 Irish-trained winners to 86 British-trained winners and with the Emerald Isle predicted to take home the lion’s share of the prizes once again, they look set to extend their lead.

One of the reasons the Irish challenge at Cheltenham is so strong is that year-after-year 14-time Irish Champion Trainer, Willie Mullins, assembles a raiding party of brilliantly talented horses.

With 78 winners to his name, no trainer has had more success at the Festival than Mullins and he goes into this year’s event eight wins clear of second placed Nicky Henderson.

Henderson holds the record for number of wins in the four Championship races at the Festival. He has won each of the races more than once, but is particularly adept at training two-milers over hurdles and fences, highlighted by his eight Champion Hurdle and six Champion Chase successes.

The most prized of all Cheltenham races though is the Gold Cup, run on the final day of the Festival. Legendary Golden Miller still holds the record for the horse with most wins in National Hunt racing’s premier event, after his remarkable five consecutive triumphs between 1932 and 1936.

Leading jockey, Ruby Walsh, won two Gold Cups, both on the brilliant Kauto Star for trainer Paul Nicholls, in a glittering career that came to an end in 2019.

By that time he had ridden a record 59 Cheltenham Festival winners, well clear of Barry Geraghty in second with 43.

Davy Russell is the active rider with the most Festival winners, with 25, while Paul Townend, current stable jockey to Willie Mullins, has 18.

Few Festivals go by without a winner in the famous green and gold hoops of top owner J. P. McManus, but last year’s Festival wasn’t as successful as many for him, with only one winner courtesy of Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

He will be out to improve on that this time around and looks set to have eight runners on day one, including Jonbon in the opening race – a stellar renewal of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which is many people’s race of the meeting.

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