2018 Cheltenham Festival – Who’ll Be Top Trainer?
Another market that has become ever-popular in the build-up to the four-day 2018 Cheltenham Festival is which trainer will end up with the most winners?
The powerful Nicky Henderson team have fired in 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 then it would be a huge shock if Henderson isn’t on the score sheet again. With that in mind, it’s no wonder Nicky Henderson will be popular in the ‘Cheltenham Festival’ Top Trainer betting again in 2018, and at this stage looks a fair alternative to Willie Mullins, who heads the market.
However, a certain Gordon Elliott might have something to say to both Mullins and Henderson. Don’t forget, Elliott landed the top trainers title for the first time in 2017 after firing in 6 winners at the meeting 12 months ago, and he’s sure to be well represented in most of the races again.
It looks a three-horse race!
It would be one of the biggest shocks in recent Cheltenham Festival history is one of Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson or Gordon Elliott doesn’t end the four days as top trainer.
The betting suggests this too with Mullins around 2.50, Elliott at 2.75 and Henderson 3.50. Great news for punters though as this is one of the tightest ‘Cheltenham Top Trainer’ markets for some time.
12 months ago it was Gordon Elliott that started the meeting with a bang after notching three winners on day one, with Henderson getting two and Mullins drawing a blank.
Day two in 2017 had a similar look with Elliott firing in another two winners, Henderson got the one and Mullins was still to score at the halfway stage.
That all changed on day three! It’s hard to keep Mullins down – after all, he’s been the top trainer at the meeting five times.
Mullins hit back in style on the third day with four wins and with Elliott and Henderson drawing blanks the race to be ‘top trainer’ was back on!
Day four, and Mullins fired in two more winners, thanks to victories in the County Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett to take the lead, but with Elliott landing the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle – the penultimate race at the Festival – that saw these two powerhouse Irish yards draw level.
However, with more places over the four days that was enough to give Elliott his first Cheltenham Festival trainers title.
So – Can Elliott Follow-up?
Of course he can. He’ll be sending over another huge 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 dubbed 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 the 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.
Top Notch will certainly have a chance in the Ryanair on the Thursday, while onto Friday and with Apple’s Shakira (Triumph Hurdle) and Might Bite (Gold Cup) the Henderson yard could certainly end the Festival on a high.
Willie Mullins probably doesn’t have his normal ‘sure-fire’ bankers to go to war with so of the three he might need a few of the competitive handicaps to go his way too.
However, don’t forget he took the super-tough County and Albert Bartlett Hurdles 12 months ago and is always a big player in the Champion Bumper too.
Having said that, he could start a lot better than he did in 2017 with Getabird looking to have a very strong chance in the Festival’s opening race – the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Mullins has landed this race three times in the last five runnings, and with all of those victories coming for owner Rich Ricci then Getabird has some strong stats on his side.
Footpad, who is a warm order for the Arkle on day one, is another that Mullins followers will be pinning a lot of home to. He’s a slick jumper that won well at Leopardstown last time out and this is another race the Mullins camp have done well in – winning two of the last three.
Onto Wednesday, and Min will 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 yard. Plus, 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 he 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. Killultagh Vic, who fell at the final fence in his last race when holding every chance, could be a player for them this year. However, it’s another competitive renewal with the likes of Might Bite, Native River and the current champ – Sizing John – in the line-up.
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.
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.
BEST BET: WILLIE MULLINS TO BE TOP TRAINER
Winners Of The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award
2017 Gordon Elliott IRE (6)
2016 Willie Mullins IRE (7)
2015 Willie Mullins IRE (8)
2014 Willie Mullins IRE (4)
2013 Willie Mullins IRE (5)
2012 Nicky Henderson (7)
2011 Willie Mullins IRE (4)
2010 Nicky Henderson (3)
2009 Paul Nicholls (5)
2008 Paul Nicholls (3)
2007 Paul Nicholls (4)
2006 Paul Nicholls (3)
2005 Howard Johnson (3)
2004 Paul Nicholls (4)
2003 Jonjo O’Neill (3)
2002 Martin Pipe (3)
2000 Nicky Henderson (4)
1999 Paul Nicholls (3)
The Most Successful Current Trainers At The Cheltenham Festival
58 Nicky Henderson
54 Willie Mullins
41 Paul Nicholls
26 Jonjo O’Neill
19 Philip Hobbs
17 Nigel Twiston-Davies
15 Alan King
15 David Pipe
14 Gordon Elliott