Paul Nicholls was leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival from 2006 to 2009, but is the 33/1 fourth favourite for the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. That’s because the leading trainer market has been dominated by the three trainers in front of him in the betting since 2010. Willie Mullins has won 5 of the last 7 Cheltenham Festival Top Trainer Awards, winning it in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, with respective hauls of 4, 5, 4, 8 and 7 winners. Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson has won 2 of the last 7 titles, winning with just 3 winners in 2010, whilst he chalked-up 7 winners in 2012. However, both Mullins and Henderson were usurped in 2017 by new-kid-on-the-block Gordon Elliott, who won the title with 6 winners.
Such is the wealth of ammunition at the disposal of Mullins, Elliott and Henderson, it’s almost impossible to see any other trainer gate-crashing the party in 2018 – so it’s time to take a look at which of the trio may have the best bullets to fire.
Footpad looks the Willie Mullins banker for 2018, and the Arkle looks at the mercy of this slick-jumping 6-year-old. However, beyond that, Mullins doesn’t appear to have any bankers. Of course, he still has plenty of strength in depth, and he’s likely to fire more than one arrow at several of the races at the festival. He’ll certainly be hoping that Faugheen and Douvan make it to the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase, though he has the likes of Melon and Min as back-up for those races. Sharjah is also well-fancied for the Supreme after seemingly having a Grade 1 at his mercy before a last fence fall at Christmas. He’s then got Limini and Let’s Dance for the Mares’ Hurdle, though he’ll be hoping that Apple’s Jade runs elsewhere. He’s also got Un Des Sceaux and Yorkhill for the Ryanair, Next Destination for the Albert Bartlett, and Hollowgraphic for the Bumper, whilst the talented Killultagh Vic is favourite for the Foxhunters but also has other options.
Gordon Elliott (11/8)
Apple’s Jade looks Elliott’s banker of the meeting, and she’ll very short for the Mares’ Hurdle, but could equally win the Stayers’ Hurdle if connections aim her at the more prestigious race. Meanwhile, Samcro has been the talking horse of the season in Ireland, and is already a top-priced 9/4 for the Ballymore Novice’s Hurdle. Cause Of Causes, who will bid for a fourth Cheltenham Festival Victory, will also be very hard to beat in the Cross Country Race. Other Elliott horses that catch the eye include Farclas (Fred Winter), Death Duty (JLT) and Cracking Smart (Albert Barlett). However, as Elliott also knows how to win a handicap or two at the Festival, he’ll also have a few dark horses come the festival.
Nicky Henderson (7/2)
English hoped rest firmly on the shoulders of the Master of Seven Barrows, but he may well have to equal his 2012 haul of 7 winners to have a chance of taking the title. He does have some serious ammunition this year though. Buveur D’Air is already odds-on to defend his crown in the Champion Hurdle, whilst victory for Might Bite in the King George means Henderson also has the Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite. Henderson is also hopeful he’ll have Altior in A1 condition for the Champion Chase, for which he’s favourite. Henderson also looks to have some serious novice hurdlers in Apples Shakira, We Have A Dream, On The Blind Side and Claimandtakinforgan, whilst the improving Top Notch will surely go close in the Ryanair. Henderson also rarely leaves the festival without winning one of the handicaps.
As ever, Willie Mullins will send an army of horses to Cheltenham, but perhaps doesn’t have as many bankers as usual. Elliott looks to have 3 bankers and, as he’s adept at winning handicaps too, he could well beat his arch rival again in 2018. However, it’s Henderson that has the favourites for the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and the Gold Cup and, with plenty of other ammunition, Henderson may well win his first Cheltenham Festival Trainers Title since 2012.