The Top Five Trainers At Cheltenham And Their Best Hopes
Author: Richard Downey
February 26 - The leading trainers from across the UK and Ireland will descend upon Cheltenham Racecourse on March 13 to battle it out for glory. Last year, Irishman Gordon Elliott was named the leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival, ending a four-year winning streak for his compatriot, Willie Mullins. This year there are several trainers that stand a strong chance of walking off with the leading trainer award, and here are the top five:
Mullins always seems to have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal and he has secured 54 wins at the Cheltenham Festival during his glorious career. That puts him just four behind Nicky Henderson in the all-time stakes at the Festival, and he looks set to overtake the Englishman soon. Last year Mullins struggled on the first two days, and found himself without a win heading into the Thursday, which was extremely unusual. But he roared back to form on the Day Three, delivering four winners in just seven races thanks to Yorkhill, Un De Sceaux, Nichols Canyon and Let's Dance.
On the final day, Arctic Fire took the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle and Penhill won the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, leaving Mullins with six winners in total. That put him level with Elliott on six apiece, but Elliott had more places and was named leading trainer. This year Mullins has the ante post favourite or joint favourite in eight of the 28 races at the Cheltenham Festival, and the second favourite in seven others. Un De Sceaux, Footpad and Laurina are among his big hopes.
Henderson is Great Britain's big hope this year as it bids to repel the Mullins-Elliott twin pronged attack and regain the Prestbury Cup. The Englishman will be determined to hold onto his title as the leading trainer in Cheltenham Festival history, and he has an extremely strong group heading to the west of England this year. Might Bite is the favourite to win the big one, the Gold Cup, after he secured a dominant victory at the King George VI Chase. Altior cannot stop winning and he is odds-on to land the Queen Mother Champion Chase, while the spread betting lines here - https://www.sportingindex.com/spread-betting/horse-racing show that Buveur d'Air is the clear front runner to win the Champion Hurdle for a second year running. If Henderson lands all three, he will have enjoyed possibly the most successful Festival in memory.
Elliott is starting to really run Mullins close in the Irish champion trainer stakes and he has a strong chance of defending his Cheltenham crown this year. He got off to the perfect start in 2017 when Labaik landed the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at 25/1. Apple's Jade won the Champion Hurdle and then Tiger Roll took the Close Novices? Handicap Chase to give Elliott three winners on the opening day. He secured a one-two in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase as Cause Of Causes beat stablemate Bless The Wings, and Fayonagh won the Champion Bumper. On the final day Champagne Classic took the penultimate race, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, handing Elliott victory in the leading trainer honours. This year, Mullins is the favourite to regain his title, but Elliott will be a formidable opponent. Apple's Jade and Cause Of Causes will certainly take some beating.
Harrington was rewarded for stepping Sizing John up in trip last year when he delivered a superb performance to win the Gold Cup. This year, he is second favourite behind Might Bite to land the big race, and if he recaptures his best form he will be able to pull it off. His performance in the Christmas Chase was worrying, as he was declared "clinically abnormal" after finishing well behind Road To Respect. However, jockey Robbie Power says his confidence remains sky-high and Sizing John could well light up the Festival again. Harrington also trains Supasundae, the favourite to win the Stayers' Hurdle after beating Faugheen in his last race, and Rock The World.
It was a slightly disappointing Festival for Nicholls last time around as he landed just one winner and three places. This time around he appears to have a stronger hand in several races, and Politologue, Modus, Adrien Du Pont, Movewiththetimes, Grand Annual, Black Corton, Armour De Nuit, Topofthegame, Connetable, Frodon, Old Guard, Le Prezien and Romain De Senam are all worth keeping an eye on.
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