Cheltenham Festival 2020: The Battle Of The Trainers

The battle to be named top trainer always provides an intriguing subplot as the Cheltenham Festival unfolds. It is the biggest event of the season and all the leading lights are desperate to secure winners, so the resulting contests are intense and the celebrations are wild. These are the big names vying to be named top trainer at the famous festival in 2020:

Willie Mullins

The Irish maestro became the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history when Laurina seized the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in 2018. He pulled even further away from the chasing pack when he was named top trainer at last year’s meeting, with four winners. That fell some way short of his record of eight winners, secured back in 2015, but he was delighted to land the biggest prize of all when Al Boum Photo won the Gold Cup.

Mullins has been named top trainer at Cheltenham six times since 2011 and he will have another formidable collection of runners this year. Benie Des Dieux is the favourite to win the Mares’ Hurdle at top betting sites like, while Saldier is among the leading contenders for the Champion Hurdle and Panic Attack heads the betting for the Champion Bumper after delivering an impressive victory at Market Rasen.

Classy veteran Douvan could also be set for a return to action at Cheltenham and he could be an interesting each-way option in the Champion Chase. Yet the most attention will be reserved for Al Boum Photo, who is the favourite to win the Gold Cup for a second year running. Stablemate Kemboy is the second favourite, so Mullins will have a very strong hand in the big race. It is unsurprising to see him installed as the favourite to be named top trainer at the festival for a record-breaking seventh time.

Gordon Elliott

Elliott has enjoyed an extremely fruitful partnership with Michael O’Leary in recent years, saddling several winners for the Ryanair boss at the Cheltenham Festival. That will all end soon, as O’Leary announced a shock decision to begin winding up his Gigginstown Stud operation by 2024, so Elliott must make hay while the sun shines.

He secured six winners in 2017 and equalled Mullins’ record with eight in 2018. That saw him crowned top trainer at both meetings, but he struggled last year and ended up with just three winners. All three of them will be back in 2020 and they all have a great chance of securing more success.

Tiger Roll will be a star attraction as he bids for a third consecutive Cross Country Chase triumph en route to his attempt to win an unprecedented third Grand National in a row at Aintree the following month. Envoi Allen will also carry plenty of hype after embarking on an exceptional run of form. He is expected to run in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and he will be the clear favourite to prevail. Sire Du Berlais is also the favourite for the Pertemps Network Final.

There are also high hopes for a number of emerging stars within Elliott’s stable. Speed merchant Abacadabras is the favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the first race of the festival, while Easywork could also contend for that one. Andy Dufresne and Fury Road have plenty of potential, and Delta Work is a potential Gold Cup challenger.

Nicky Henderson

Henderson has loomed large over the Cheltenham Festival in recent years. Altior won the Champion Chase and Buveur d’Air landed the Champion Hurdle in 2018, and then Altior secured another Champion Chase victory last year.

Buveur d’Air is now out injured, but Altior will aim to make it a Champion Chase hat-trick this year. Henderson decided to step him up in trip in an effort to win the King George on Boxing Day this season, but preparations did not go well and he struggled in the Christy Chase at Ascot, so he is now going back down to 2 miles.

Elsewhere, Henderson has an exciting Gold Cup contender in Santini, viewed by many commentators as the one to beat in the big race. Delta Work is another major Gold Cup hopeful from the Henderson stable. Champ is the favourite for the RSA Chase and talented youngster Shiskin is tipped to land the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after an eye-catching win at Newbury.

Henderson was made an OBE in the New Year’s honours and he has enjoyed plenty of Cheltenham Festival success over the years, having been named top trainer in 2000, 2010 and 2012. The bookies see him as the only Brit capable of challenging Mullins and Elliott for the award this year.

Henry de Bromhead

De Bromhead saddled two winners at last year’s Cheltenham Festival as A Plus Tard seized the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase and Minella Indo defied odds of 50/1 to win the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. This time around A Plus Tard is favourite to win the Ryanair Chase and also one of the key contenders for the Champion Chase, presenting the Irish trainer with a dilemma.

Minella Indo is expected to battle Champ for RSA Chase glory. Monalee will be de Bromhead’s big hope for the Gold Cup. Honeysuckle is also the second favourite for the Mares’ Hurdle so it could be a strong festival for de Bromhead.

Paul Nicholls

Once upon a time Nicholls was the dominant force at the Cheltenham Festival. He was the top trainer in 1999 and 2004, and then he had the most winners four years in a row between 2006 and 2009. He would turn up at Prestbury Park with legends like Kauto Star, Denman, See More Business, Master Minded, Silviniaco Conti and Big Buck’s, and clean up.

Nowadays his star has waned somewhat, as Mullins has emerged as the one to beat, but he managed two winners at last year’s festival. Frodon won the Ryanair Chase and Topofthegame landed the RSA Novices’ Chase. Frodon will return this year and we could be in for an epic battle between him and Min for the Ryanair Chase.

Gold Cup hope Topofthegame is out for the season with a leg injury, but Nicholls has plenty of good options at the Cheltenham Festival. He regained the Trainers’ Championship last season, clinching it for an 11th time, and he will have the likes of Cyrname, Pic D’Orhy and Magic Saint gunning for glory in March.

Colin Tizzard

Lostintranslation has a fantastic chance of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup after his stunning victory in the Betfair Chase in November. He was pulled up during a disappointing performance in the King George on Boxing Day, but he has since had his palate cauterised and he has plenty of time to return to top form in time for the main event at Cheltenham.

Native River is a former Gold Cup winner and he can never be written off. The Big Breakaway is another exciting runner from Tizzard’s stable and he could run in either the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle or the Albert Bartlett. The veteran Thistlecrack has been ruled out, but the likes of Master Debonair, Slate House and Fiddlerontheroof show plenty of promise and Tizzard will be another key trainer to watch at the Cheltenham Festival in March.