Jessica Harrington

Jessica Harrington Jessica Jane Harrington, still known in racing circles as Mrs. John Harrington – her late husband, Johnny, died from cancer in 2014 – was born in London, but trains in Moone, Co. Kildare. Originally a permit holder, Mrs. Harrington first took out a full training licence in 1991 and, nowadays, has the distinction of being the most successful female trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, with 11 winners.

She saddled her first Festival winner, Space Trucker, owned by Mrs. Eileen Queally and ridden by Shay Barry, in the Grand Annual Chase in 1999, but the horse that thrust her into the public eye was Moscow Flyer. Owned by Brian Kearney, Moscow Flyer was a three-time Grade One winner over hurdles in his native land, but became an even better steeplechaser – in fact, with a Timeform Annual Rating of 184, arguably the best to come out of Ireland since the halcyon days of Arkle, Flyingbolt and Mill House – and ran at five consecutive Cheltenham Festivals in that capacity.

On his first appearance, in 2002, he readily won the Arkle Challenge Trophy by 4 lengths from the Martin Pipe-trained favourite, Seebald, and on his second, in 2003, justified favouritism for the Queen Mother Champion Chase with an emphatic, 7-length victory over Native Upmanship, trained by Arthur Moore. Moscow Flyer started odds-on to retain his title in 2004 and was still travelling well within himself when blundering and unseating jockey Barry Geraghty at the fourth last fence. He gained some compensation in 2005, though, when staying on strongly to beat Well Chief, also trained by Martin Pipe, by 2 lengths for a memorable second victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

In 2014, Mrs. Harrington added the Champion Hurdle to her Cheltenham tally, courtesy of Jezki, owned by J.P. McManus and ridden by Barry Geraghty, and has since added the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle with Supasundae, the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Sizing John and the Grand Annual Chase with Rock The World, all in 2017. Of here Gold Cup success, she said, ‘This is the jewel in the crown. I’ve been watching and listening to this for as long as I can remember.’

Nicky Henderson

Nicky Henderson On the eve of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson was still the most successful trainer in the history of the annual National Hunt showpiece, with 58 winners, and was due to saddle the favourite in three of the four main championship races. Buveur D’Air, of course, defended his title in the Champion Hurdle, Altior was an impressive winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Might Bite failed by 4½ lengths to complete an unprecedented treble in the Cheltenham Gold Cup after an epic duel with Native River. To make matters worse, Henderson was displaced as the most successful Festival trainer by Willie Mullins, whose seven winners took his own career total to 61 successes.

 

Nevertheless, although the Master of Seven Barrows last won the Leading Trainer Award at the Festival in 2012 that was, in fact, his ninth win and he remains one of a handful of big-hitters at Cheltenham when March rolls around. His impressive track record stretches back to the victory of The Tsarevitch, ridden by John White, in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup in 1985 but, since then, his performance in the four main championship races alone would be enough to make him the envy of lesser trainers.

 

Henderson is the leading trainer in the history of the Champion Hurdle, with seven wins, courtesy of See You Then in 1985, 1986 and 1987, Punjabi in 2009, Binocular in 2010 and Buveur D’Air in 2017 and 2018. He has won the Queen Mother Champion Chase five times, with Remittance Man in 1992, Finian’s Rainbow in 2012, Sprinter Sacre 2013 and 2016 and Altior 2018, the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Rustle in 1989 and Bacchanal in 2000 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Long Run 2011 and Bobs Worth 2013. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Henderson is also the leading trainer in the history of the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Triumph Hurdle, with six wins apiece.

Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls Paul Nicholls has won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship ten times and Leading Trainer Award at the Cheltenham Festival six times. Since 2009, Nicholls has had to play second fiddle to the likes of Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott at the Gloucestershire course, but victories for Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunter Challenge Cup and Le Prezien in the Grand Annual Challenge Cup in 2018 took his career total to 43 Festival winners. Consequently, despite some lean years, he remains the third most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, behind only Mullins, with 61 wins, and Henderson, with 60.

 

Nicholls saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Flagship Uberalles, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 1999 and wasted no time in adding his second, and third, Call Equiname in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and See More Business in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Those three winners were sufficient to win him his first Leading Trainer Award and he won again five years later, when Azertyuiop in the Queen Mother Champion Chase was one of four winners for the yard.

 

Nicholls won again in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, with three, four, three and five winners, respectively. In 2007, he saddled Denman to win the RSA Chase and Kauto Star to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in 2008, Master Minded to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Denman to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and, in 2009, Master Minded to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase again, Big Buck’s to win the Stayers’ Hurdle and Kauto Star to regain his crown in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Of course, Big Buck’s would go on to win the next three renewals of the Stayers’ Hurdle and was inducted into the Cheltenham Hall of Fame in 2018.

Gordon Elliott

Gordon Elliott Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliott first took out a training licence in 2007 and saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Chicago Grey, in the National Hunt Chase in 2011. Five years later, he saddled Don Cossack, owned by Gigginstown House Stud and ridden by 23-year-old Bryan Cooper – who, according to Elliott, had given the horse a ‘diabolical’ ride when a beaten favourite in the Ryanair Chase in 2015 – to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

 

More recently, in 2017, Elliott saddled six Festival winners and beat Willie Mullins to the Leading Trainer Award on countback, by virtue of three second-placed horses to Mullins’ two. In 2018, the victory of Blow By Blow in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle on the Friday took his total for the meeting to eight winners, equalling the record set by Mullins three years earlier and pipping his compatriot to the Leading Trainer Award, for the second year running, by one winner.

 

Of course, Elliott was the chief beneficiary Gigginstown House Stud removed all 60 of its horses from Mullins’ yard in September, 2016, following a dispute over training fees. In fact, in 2018, Elliott saddled two so-called ‘bankers’ in Michael O’Leary’s distinctive maroon and white colours, Apple’s Jade, only third, at 1/2, in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle on Champion Day and Samcro, winner of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Ladies’ Day at 8/11. Other winners for Gigginstown House Stud, trained by Elliott, were Tiger Roll in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, Shattered Love in the JLT Novices’ Chase, Delta Work in the Pertemps Network Final and Farclas in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

 

Although something of a new kid on the block, when compared with Cheltenham stalwarts such as Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls, Gordon Elliott clearly has the ammunition to compete with the ‘old guard’ and seems likely to become a fixture at Prestbury Park when March rolls around each year.

Colin Tizzard

Colin Tizzard Dorset dairy farmer turned trainer Colin Tizzard first took out a full training licence in 1998, but in the two decades since has gone from strength to strength and, in 2018, enjoyed his best season yet, numerically, with 1979 winners.

 

Tizzard saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Cue Card, in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2010. A 40/1 outsider on that occasion, Cue Card became a flag bearer for the yard in subsequent seasons. He finished fourth, when favourite, behind Al Ferof in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2011, clear second behind impressive winner Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 2012 and made all to beat First Lieutenant by 9 lengths in the Ryanair Chase in 2013. He twice fell in the Cheltenham Gold Cup when well fancied, including in 2016, when chasing a £1 million Triple Crown bonus, having already won the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

 

However, on the previous day, Tizzard had already saddled Thistlecrack to a facile, 7-length win over Alpha Des Obeaux and ten other rivals in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Afterwards,Tizzard spoke of not having to be part of a “big battalion” to find a superstar and, two years later, he appeared to have found another when Native River, ridden by Richard Johnson, fought off a determined challenge by eventual runner-up, Might Bite, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

 

Heading into the final day of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, Tizzard had drawn a blank at the meeting and seen the ever popular Cue Card pulled up in what turned out to be his final race in the Ryanair Chase the previous day. However, Kilbricken Storm caused a 33-1 upset when winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and, 40 minutes later, Native River provided a fairytale ending to the week and, in so doing, became his seventh Cheltenham Festival winner.

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