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.