Everyone probably has their own opinions about who are the top horse-racing trainers of all time and, after causing a few notes of controversy with my top-7 jockeys, here are my top-5 trainers – but feel to post your top-5 if you don’t agree with me.
It’s hard to see anyone replacing Vincent O’Brien at the top of the list of greatest trainers ever, as he excelled in both the training of flat-racing horses and national-hunt horses. He was a trainer for an amazing 52 years, but he had already notched-up 22 winners in 12 years at the Cheltenham Festival by the time he was 41, including four Cheltenham Gold Cups and three Champion Hurdles, whilst he also won three Grand Nationals. He then turned his attention completely to flat-racing, winning six Derbys and three Arc de Triomphes. He was the trainer of great horses such as El Gran Senor, Sir Ivor, Nijinsky and Sadler’s Wells, whilst his association with Lester Piggott is the stuff of legends.
20 Years after becoming a trainer, Aidan O’Brien’s achievements are nothing short of spectacular. He has amazingly trained the winners of 34 Irish Classics, and 23 English Classic, comprising 6 Irish 1,000 Guineas, 10 Irish 2,000 Guineas, 11 Irish Derbys, 4 Irish Oaks, 3 Irish St Legers, 2 English 1,000 Guineas, 7 English 2,000 Guineas, 5 English Derbys, 5 English Oaks, and 4 English St Legers. He’s also trained a plethora of Royal Ascot winners, including saddling Yeats to win 4 consecutive Ascot Gold Cups, and the only shock is that he’s only won the Arc De Triomphe once. He also saddled Istabraq to win 3 Champion Hurdles.
Despite winning 25 English Classics and 6 Irish Classics, Henry Cecil had a humble persona that endeared him to the public like few other trainers. He had an amazing touch with fillies, winning six 1,000 Guineas and 8 Oaks. He was prodigious in the 1980s and 1990s, and many had written him off by the time Frankel came along, though no one would have begrudged him his last fling with the highest-rated horse ever, before he sadly passed away.
A tally of 10 Champion Trainer Titles, 9 King Georges, 4 Cheltenham Gold Cups, 4 Queen Mother Champion Chases, 6 Betfair Chases, 4 World Hurdles, and a Grand National have already cemented Nicholls’ place in the history books, but for me it is his ability to keep great horses great for long periods that sets him apart from other British National Hunt trainers, and it is unlikely that anyone will repeat the feats of Kauto Star or Big Bucks.
Willie Mullins has amazingly been training since 1988 and, though he’s trained many great winners including Florida Pearl, it is not until the last few years he has started to take the national hunt scene by storm. He’s dominated Irish Jumps Racing in recent years, and has now started to cream many of England’s top races, so much so that he came within a few thousand pounds of being English Champion Trainer this year, despite training in Ireland. He trained a record 8 Cheltenham Festival winners in 2015, and became the first trainer to train the first three home in the Champion Hurdle. He had a winner at Royal Ascot, and also nearly won the Melbourne Cup in 2015, and it would be no surprise if he started to worry a few of the top flat trainers in the coming years, though a Cheltenham Gold Cup remains top of his priorities.