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.

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.