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Festival Pointers – Irish Tracks and Which Cheltenham Festival Races They Provide Winners For

Minella Indo, Albert Bartlett

In our penultimate Festival Pointers column as the 2024 Cheltenham Festival nears, we take a broader look at the remaining Irish tracks, aside from our previous looks at Leopardstown and Punchestown, to see which courses are prolific at guiding punters to Cheltenham winners.

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Overview

In the last five years in particular, the invasion of the Irish battalions has overwhelmed a feeble home defence to ensure the Prestbury Cup has returned to Ireland after seven of the last eight Festivals. The score stands at 141-82 in that time in favour of the away side, a substantial majority that is only likely to grow in the coming seasons with Willie Mullins so dominant on his own.

Having already looked at Leopardstown and Punchestown, we have grouped the remaining Irish jumps courses together for a more in-depth look at where else the success of the visitors may arise from. There are still some big tracks which have not been covered and it will be no surprise to many which areas have provided a large number of Cheltenham winners.

A broad look shows that 321 races run in Ireland produced a Festival hero in the last decade. While Leopardstown is still the home of the most races a Festival winner has emerged from, with 108, that still means their races are worth barely over a quarter of those which Cheltenham winners have appeared in within Irish tracks during the season.

Even those tracks as disregarded from a big race perspective as Downpatrick (Put The Kettle On) and Bellewstown (Belfast Banter and Telmesomethinggirl) have hosted Cheltenham Festival winners of later that very same season. There is depth as well as quantity to Ireland’s success.


Which Courses?

The Nice Guy (right) is one of five of the last ten Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winners to have run at Fairyhouse earlier that same season.

Of the remaining Irish tracks we have not yet covered, the following three have seen the most races to produce Festival winners in the last ten seasons:

  1. Fairyhouse – 63 winners
  2. Navan – 44 winners
  3. Naas – 29 winners

The leaders should be fairly unsurprising, with the likes of the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grade Hurdle run at the track at a crucial time of the National Hunt Season. However, once again, it is the depth of their strength that stands out, with 22 of the 28 Festival races having had a winner in the last ten years who had run at Fairyhouse earlier that term.

Of special note here are both the Albert Bartlett and Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, within which five winners each had run at Fairyhouse earlier that season. A further five Festival contests have had four winners within them who had raced at the track within their prep. Intriguingly though, of the six races to which Fairyhouse has not provided a winner, three of those were the three Championship contests over fences in the Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup. The track’s schedule does not cater for the star chasers.

Navan, with its 44 Festival winners among its ranks in the last decade, has provided victors of 16 Cheltenham contests in March. Its success has been consistently second-best out of the tracks in this article behind Fairyhouse, though has increased in particular in recent years due to the Boyne Hurdle’s use as a prep for the Cross Country Chase, with both Tiger Roll and Delta Work having utilised it, while Cause Of Causes and Josies Orders had both run at the venue too.

Contrasted with Navan is Naas, which has actually given winners to more races than Navan (17-16) despite fewer overall. There are only two contests at which the track has provided more than two winners in the last decade, those being the Baring Bingham Novice Hurdle and Boodles Juvenile Handicap. Keep an eye on promising youngsters making a stepping stone appointment at Naas.

Both Galway and Limerick have been used en route by over 20 Cheltenham Festival winners too. The former’s summer meeting owes much to that despite its polar opposite conditions in terms of the time of year to Cheltenham, while the latter boasts a significant Christmas schedule and can often be a hiding place for winners compared to the more high profile meeting at Leopardstown during the same period.

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Which Races?

Killarney Racecourse – a surprise host of five races in which National Hunt Chase winners have emerged in the last decade.

If you are looking for more nuance, you have now arrived at the right place.

Here come the specifics of certain tracks being utilised to particular value. Galway, for instance, has been a very useful stopping point for the Pertemps Final, with four winners emerging from earlier races at the track.

This is a gentle easing into this kind of stat, but the best is saved for the National Hunt Chase. With experience often being a factor and with many a recent winner having been campaigned during the summer, 13 different Irish tracks have played host to one of the last ten winners. The most prolific of these courses? You guessed it: Killarney.

A few blank stares at the screen there I’m sure, but both Galvin and Tiger Roll had run twice there for Gordon Ellliott well in advance of winning the race, while Rathvinden also took in a contest there on his way. Only 12 winners have come from Killarney at the whole Festival in the last ten seasons, so the ultimate staying novice chase is responsible for almost half of them.

It may feel like cheating given that only three winners actually came from that race with two having won twice. Other pointers therefore include that Limerick has been especially useful at finding the winner of the Albert Bartlett, as well as Fairyhouse, as mentioned earlier. Between those two tracks, they have featured seven of the last ten winners of the race before the Gold Cup.

The other track to produce four races for winners in a single Festival race in our time period is Thurles, having done so in the Martin Pipe.


Pointers

Killarney’s National Hunt Chase record is such that it can be both smiled at and taken seriously from a punting perspective. Joyously, there is also a horse in with a real chance of victory in the race this year in Salvador Ziggy who won a novice chase there in August.

The most prolific track-race combination was Navan and the Cross Country Chase. The Boyne Hurdle was used this year by both Delta Work (again) and stablemate Galvin, though winners from this combination are not exclusive to the Boyne Hurdle and so Coko Beach’s Troytown Handicap Chase win in November also fits the bill readily.

Fairyhouse, with 63 Festival wins coming from its racing ranks, has pointed very hotly towards Albert Bartlett or Boodles winners in recent years, so Answer To Kayf could be a livewire in the former, as could Better Days Ahead and My Trump Card, with the first-named having won a maiden hurdle comfortably there. In the latter contest, Batman Girac might have been well-beaten on his stable debut at Fairyhouse, but certainly looks well-treated, while Ndaawi and Eagle Fang also fit the bill.

Lastly, a look at two further handicaps, the Pertemps Final and Martin Pipe, reveals that Galway in the former, and Thurles in the latter, have been unusually good prep grounds for each race. Among the favourites for the Pertemps is Icare Allen, who ran twice at the Galway Festival, while both Foxy Jacks and Stuzzikini also ran there before the winter. In the Martin Pipe, Cleatus Poolaw was a runner-up in a Thurles maiden hurdle, with Lombron having gone one better in a separate race.


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