Tom George

Tom George Tom George started training in 1993 and, in two-and-a-half decades since, has saddled over 700 winners and transformed his traditional, family home at Down Farm in Slad, near Stroud, Gloucestershire into an up-to-the-minute training establishment. By his own admission, George prefers a patient approach, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. His philosophy appears to be paying dividends because, in 2016/17, he enjoyed his most successful season ever, financially, surpassing £1 million in prize money for the first time and, in 2017/18, fell only just short of that mark.

Indeed, of the ten Grade One winners that George has saddled during his 25-year career, three of them came in 2017/18. Of course, two of those wins were provided by the same horse, Summerville Boy, who beat Kalashnikov in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, before confirming the form in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle to give George only his second winner at the Cheltenham Festival.

George deliberately avoided a clash between Summerville Boy and his other highly promising novice hurdler, Black Op, who also runs in the colours of high-profile owner Roger Brookhouse. Consequently, Black Op ran in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, rather than the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and finished a highly creditable second, beaten just 2¾ lengths, behind odds-on favourite Samcro.

Black Op was, in fact, attempting to follow in the footsteps of the only previous Cheltenham Festival winner for the yard, Galileo, who won the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – at the time, run as the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle – in 2002. Galileo, a Polish-bred gelding – not to be confused with the 2001 Derby winner of the same name – failed to progress after promising start to his racing career but, with two Grade One-winning novice hurdlers in his yard, along with plenty more ammunition, it’s probably safe to say that George will be enjoying further success at the Festival before long.

Henry de Bromhead

Henry de Bromhead Henry de Bromhead has been training at Knockeen, Co. Waterford since the retirement of his father, Harry, in 1999. In the intervening two decades, he has steadily developed his yard into one of the foremost training operations in Ireland, albeit on a more modest scale than, say, Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott. De Bromhead has built a reputation as an astute and adept trainer and, while he has yet to saddle more than three winners in National Hunt season on this side of the Irish Sea, he has comparatively few runners on British soil.

De Bromhead has saddled four winners at the Cheltenham Festival, starting with Sizing Europe, owned by the late Alan Potts and ridden by Andrew Lynch, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 2010. The following season, another horse carrying the familiar red, green and yellow Potts’ colours, Sizing Australia stayed on gamely to win the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase on the Cross Country Course and, a day later, Sizing Europe completed a notable double for the yard when winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Having been beaten on all four starts since winning the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Sizing Europe was sent off 10/1 fifth choice of the eleven runners behind previous dual winner Master Minded at 2/1 favourite. Master Minded was still four lengths behind Sizing Europe when an almighty blunder at the third last fence finally put paid to his chances and the latter stayed on strongly to go clear in the closing stages and beat Big Zeb by 5 lengths. A quizzical de Bromhead said afterwards, ‘It’s just phenomenal. I couldn’t believe it.’

Six years later, de Bromhead was equally incredulous, if not more so, when Special Tiara, owned by Sally Rowland-Williams and ridden by Noel Fehily, took advantage of a major shock to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase again. Despite starting at prohibitive odds of 2/9, favourite Douvan was never jumping with any fluency and was outpaced in the closing stages, eventually trailing in seventh of the ten runners, beaten 11¾ lengths. Special Tiara, running in the race for the fourth time, led the field a merry dance from the fifth fence and, although tackled by eventual runner-up Fox Norton close home, held on gamely to win by a head, all out, at odds of 11/1. De Bromhead aid, ‘…it was hard to believe we could win with Douvan and everything else – Douvan had looked so good.’

Willie Mullins

Willie Mullins Co. Carlow trainer Willie Mullins has won the Irish National Hunt Trainers’ Championship and the Leading Trainer Award at the Cheltenham Festival five times in the last eight years so, hopefully, requires little introduction. Admittedly, Mullins has found life more difficult since Gigginstown Stud, owned by Michael O’Leary, removed all 60 of its horses from his yard in September, 2016, following a dispute over training fees. Nevertheless, when Laurina effortlessly went clear to win the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle by 18 lengths in 2018, to record his seventh success of the week, he officially became the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival with 61 winners, one ahead of Nicky Henderson.

Mullins saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Tourist Attraction, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1995 but, despite his impressive total, it hasn’t all been plain sailing in the interim. Between his forty-eighth winner, Limini in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and his forty-ninth, Yorkhill in the JLT Novices’ Chase 2017, he actually racked up 25 consecutive losers although, in typical style, he subsequently saddled the winners of three of the remaining six races on the card.

Mullins has won the Champion Hurdle four times, with Hurricane Fly in 2011 and 2013, Faugheen in 2015 and Annie Power in 2016 and the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Nichols Canyon in 2017 and Penhill in 2018. He has yet to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Cheltenham Gold Cup but, in the case of the latter event, has saddled the runner-up six times, including On His Own in 2014, who was beaten a short head after being carried across the course by the eventual winner, Lord Windermere, in the closing stages, but wasn’t awarded the race.