Another Cheltenham Festival market that has become increasingly popular in recent years is which trainer will end the four days with the most winners?
Yes, there is also an equivalent market for the top jockey, but both are closely linked in with the main pilots riding the majority of the best horses anyway.
Also, putting your money down on a trainer in this market has the added bonus of running over the four days – giving you much more value for money – while you’ll probably have a horse (or two) to cheer on in most of the 28 festival races!
For example, at the 2017 Festival top Irish trainer – Willie Mullins, who was also favourite to end up with the most winners, drew a blank over the first few days which saw his in-running price increase dramatically. However, after bagging four of the seven winners on day three Mullins was back in the hunt and gave his supporters fresh interest heading into the final day.
As it turned out Mullins added another two winners on the Friday in 2017, but that was only enough to see him draw with Gordon Elliott (6 winners)– but, don’t forget, if things are all square in this market then it will be decided on who’s had the most seconds, then thirds and fourths! Elliott had the more places, so took the 2017 title.
Mullins and Elliott will once again be popular in the betting, while on the UK front it’s really only Nicky Henderson that can challenge these Irish power-house yards this year.
The Nicky Henderson team have sent out a staggering 58 Cheltenham Festival winners over the years and has ended up as top trainer 9 times since 1980. The Seven Barrows handler added Might Bite, Altior and Buveur D’ Air last year and with that trio all well-fancied in their respected races again in 2018 it would be a huge shock if Henderson isn’t on the scoresheet again. However, my main worry would be if he’s got enough outside of these three?
It looks a three-horse race!
In recent years the Willie Mullins camp have dominated this market – winning it 4 times in the last 5 years, but with an army of bankers during that period his price was virtually unbackable.
However, with Gordon Elliott winning his first Cheltenham Festival top trainers’ title last season and having another big team heading over to Prestbury Park then he’s sure to be popular with punters in this market again.
Add in the Nicky Henderson yard, that have the current favourites in three of the four Championship races, then for the first time in a long while this market is not only more interesting, but a lot closer in the betting.
Therefore, it would be one of the biggest shocks in recent Cheltenham Festival history if one of Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson or Gordon Elliott isn’t ending the four days as top trainer – but which one will it be?
The betting suggests this too with Mullins around 2.20, Elliott at 3.00 and Henderson 3.25 (odds are subject to change). So, great news for punters as this is one of the tightest ‘Cheltenham Top Trainer’ markets for some time.
Can Elliott Follow-up Last Year’s Success?
It would be a brave man that says 100% that he can’t. He’ll be sending over another massive army and should have runners in most of the 28 races over the four days.
His bankers look likely to be Apples Jade in the Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day, while the horse labeled the ‘new machine’ – Samcro – will be very popular in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on the Wednesday. Cause Of Causes will also have a huge support in his bid to follow-up his win in the Cross Country race on Wednesday too, while with an array of horses in the handicaps then Gordon Elliott is going to be a big player again in 2018.
Looking at Nicky Henderson, then he’s sure to hit the ground running, but this year he also looks to have a better spread of good chances across all four days.
The current Champion Hurdler – Buveur D’Air will be a warm order on day one to successfully defend his crown, while having returned at Newbury better that ever his 2017 Arkle winner – Altior – looks set to go off favourite for the Champion Chase on the Wednesday.
While onto Friday, and with Apple’s Shakira (Triumph Hurdle) and Might Bite (Gold Cup) the Henderson stable could certainly end the Festival on a high.
Willie Mullins probably doesn’t have his normal ‘sure-fire bankers’ to go to war with, but let’s make no mistake he’s still got a lot of very good chances.
Yes, of the three trainers, he might need a few of the competitive handicaps to go his way too, but with two big chances on day one in Getabird (Supreme Novices) and Footpad (Arkle Chase) then the other two main yards could be playing catch-up from a very early stage.
Don’t forget, Mullins also won the super-tough County and Albert Bartlett Hurdles 12 months ago and is always very well represented in Wednesday’s Champion Bumper too.
Min will also have his supporters on day two, and looks to be a decent alternative to those looking to take on Altior in the Champion Chase, but, surprisingly, it’s a race that has still eluded this powerful stable. We’ve already mentioned the Champion Bumper – a race Mullins has landed three times in the last 10 years and 8 times in total.
Sadly, the ill-fated Nichols Canyon won’t be around to defend his Stayers’ Crown on day three, but Mullins does have his 2017 Ryanair Chase hero in Un De Sceaux to look forward to on the Thursday. Add in his Novice mare – Laurina – that has gone into many a notebook ahead of the Mares’ Novice Hurdle then Mullins could be in for another big Thursday.
Surprisingly, Mullins is still also to win the Gold Cup. However, Killultagh Vic, who fell at the final fence in his last race when holding every chance, could be a player for them this year.
When asked what his highlight of the Dublin Racing Festival, where he had many winners – Mullins actually said the low-light was Vic falling at the last!! Suggesting he thought he’d have won that day and, with that in mind, would be a very interesting Gold Cup contender this year.
Where the trainers’ title could be won or lost………………..
Nicky Henderson: Buveur D’Air, Altior, Apple’s Shakira, Might Bite
Gordon Elliott: Apple’s Jade, Samcro, Cause of Causes
Willie Mullins: Getabird, Footpad, Min, Un de Sceaux, Laurina
Best Of The Rest……………………………
Paul Nicholls dominated this market between 2004 and 2009 – winning the trainers’ title five times but it’s a bit of a ‘changing of the guard’ at Ditcheat at the moment and the days of Denman, Kauto Star and Master Minded seem a long way off at the moment. He had just the one winner in 2017 – Pacha Du Polder, who took the Foxhunters’. Yes, he’s sure to fire in a few winners again, maybe in the Fred Winter that he’s done well in in recent years.
However, as mentioned, does lack any with the ‘banker’ tag so it’s hard seeing him or any or the other yards outside the main three being top trainer at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
But, it really it’s name your price outside Mullins, Elliott and Henderson.
It looks like it will be Mullins’ toughest task for a while if he’s to add another trainers’ title to his haul and with Henderson and Elliott sure to fire in a few winners it could be interesting. However, in a market like this you have to play the percentage game and with Mullins still having plenty of leading fancies – albeit not quite as many ‘super-bankers’ as in past Festival – most handlers would still bite his hand off to half the string he’s sending to Prestbury Park.
For the first time in many a year Willie Mullins will be odds against in the ‘Top Cheltenham Trainer’ market and having dominated Elliott at the recent Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in February we’ll be happy to remain with Willie.
- Willie Mullins to be top trainer