2019 Cheltenham Festival – Who’ll Be Top Trainer?
The powerful Nicky Henderson team have fired in a staggering 60 Cheltenham Festival winners over the years and has ended up as top trainer 9 times since 1980. The Seven Barrows handler added Altior and Buveur D’ Air last year and with that pair well-fancied in their respected races again in 2019 (Champion Chase and Champion Hurdle) then it would be a huge shock if Henderson isn’t on the score sheet again.
We can expect the powerful Seven Barrows yard to have many more leading chances across the four days too so of the British yards he looks sure to come out on top. The betting pre-Cheltenham reflects this too as he’s around 15/8 in the 2019 Cheltenham Top Trainer betting market, with many firms having him as the same price at last year’s top handler – Gordon Elliott, who won a staggering 8 of the 28 Festival races in 2018.
Did you know, at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival a staggering 21 of the 28 races were won by just five trainers? – Gordon Elliott (8), Willie Mullins (7), Nicky Henderson (2), Paul Nicholls (2), Colin Tizzard (2).
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 5/2, with Elliott and Henderson both around 15/8. Great news for punters though as this is one of the tightest ‘Cheltenham Top Trainer’ markets for some time.
12 months ago it was Willie Mullins that started the meeting with a bang after notching three winners on day one, with Henderson getting one and Elliott actually drawing a blank.
Day two in 2018 Elliott fought back with three of the seven winners, but with Mullins winning two more races he stood at the halfway stage with five wins to Elliott’s three.
That all changed on day three! It’s hard to keep Elliott down – after all, he’s got most of the powerful Gigginstown House Stud horses at his disposal.
Elliott hit back in style on the third day with three wins, but with Mullins holding his own too with another two success then it was all set up for a cracking final day shootout – Elliott was on 6 wins, with Mullins on seven.
Day four, and with Elliott landing the opening race it was all level, with six to come. Both drew blanks in the next four races, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup – it was the Colin Tizzard yard that were doing best with two wins so far on the afternoon.
With only two races to go Elliott went into the lead after taking the Martin Pipe Conditionals Handicap Hurdle with Blow By Blow, and with Paul Nicholls landing the final race (Grand Annual), which was his second win on the day, it meant Gordon Elliott has won the 2018 Cheltenham Festival trainers’ title with eight successes.
So – Can Elliott Follow-up?
Of course Gordon Elliott can. He’ll be sending over another huge army and should have runners in most of the 28 races over the four days. He’ll once again have many of the Gigginstown House Stud horses to aim at the contests, with the likes of Apple’s Jade and Tiger Roll just a few of his star names that will be popular choices.
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. Altior and Buveur D’Air will again be two leading chances for the Seven Barrows handler, but he seems to have some other promising sorts rising up the ranks – most notably Champ and Ok Corral.
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.
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, he’s still got the likes of Penhill, Footpad, Min and Benie Des Dieux and is always a big player in the Champion Bumper too – a race he took for the ninth time in 2018!
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 two winners in 2018 – Pacha Du Polder, who took the Foxhunters’, and Le Prezien, who won the final race (Grand Annual). 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 2019 Cheltenham Festival. Colin Tizzard also sent out two winners in 2018, including the Gold Cup winner – Native River – so he’s another of the home-based stables that’s sure to go well too.
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 plenty of winners it could be interesting. However, in a market like this you have to play the percentage game and with Elliott having plenty of leading fancies again – 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. Let’s not forget he fired in 8 winners in 2018 and with Henderson only grabbing two then that’s a big gap to make-up. Yes, Henderson does seem to have better other chances outside Altior and Buveur D’Air year, but I still think he’s got a bit of ground to make up.
Willie Mullins still sent out seven winners in 2018 so it will be foolish to write him off and being the biggest price of the main three then he’s sure to have his supporters in a bid to try and win back the title that he’s take five times in the past.
In a year with not quite as many ‘bankers’ than in previous festivals it might be that the races are shared out a bit more in 2019. However, Mullins, Elliott and Henderson still look the dominate forces and a case can really be made for all three.
For the purpose of sticking my neck out and the fact he’s the bigger price of the trio then it might be worth sticking with Willie Mullins – he hit the ground running with three winners on day one last season so there might even be a chance to trade out once the tapes go up.
BEST BET: WILLIE MULLINS TO BE TOP TRAINER
Winners Of The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award
2018 Gordon Elliott (8)
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
61 Willie Mullins
60 Nicky Henderson
43 Paul Nicholls
26 Jonjo O’Neill
22 Gordon Elliott
19 Philip Hobbs
17 Nigel Twiston-Davies
15 Alan King
15 David Pipe