The Cheltenham Festival is the absolute pinnacle of the National Hunt season and it always attracts the leading trainers from across the UK and Ireland. Performances over these four days in March can make or break careers, while huge sums of money are also up for grabs. The battle to be crowned champion trainer at the prestigious festival is always ferocious, while Grade 1 races like the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle carry enormous prestige. How are the top trainers shaping up ahead of the World Cup of jumps racing?
Elliott has been the leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival for the last two years and he is the favourite to make it a hat-trick in 2019. His partnership with Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud has proved extremely fruitful and he will make a concerted assault on Cheltenham again this year.
Ireland is odds-on to beat Great Britain to the Prestbury Cup, and that is mainly thanks to the prowess of Elliott and compatriot Willie Mullins. At last year’s festival, Elliott saddled eight winners, equalling the record set by Mullins in 2014. They were Samcro, Tiger Roll, Veneer Of Charm, Shattered Love, Delta Work, The Storyteller, Farclas and Blow By Blow.
Since then Samcro has largely disappointed, but Elliott said he is now looking good and is ready to make a comeback at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. Double Grade 1 winner Shattered Love is going for glory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year, while he is also expected to have the legendary Apples Jade running in the Champion Hurdle and Tiger Roll is the favourite to win the Cross Country Chase again.
Delta Work could also enjoy a crack at the RSA Chase. Elliott has all manner of exciting prospects at his disposal, as he highlighted with a fine treble at Ayr this month. Expect him to have an extremely strong hand at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. Sporting Index is one of a number of sites providing in depth previews for Cheltenham Festival, and these sites feature Elliott’s runners prominently in their previews.
The Irish maestro became the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history last year when he saddled his 61st winner. That left him one ahead of Nicky Henderson in the all-time stakes, although Mullins has achieved it in 10 years fewer than his English counterpart. He managed seven winners last year, narrowly losing 8-7 to countryman Elliott in the leading trainer race, but he will be pleased with his showing. The pick of the bunch was Penhill, who romped to victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle, while Footpad, Laurina, Benie Des Dieux, Rathvinden, Bleu Berry and Relegate also won. Footpad should be back this year, at either the Ryanair Chase or the Champion Chase, and Laurina could take on Buveur D’Air and Apples Jade in the Champion Hurdle. Mullins classy chaser Min also laid down his Cheltenham credentials with a supremely comfortable win in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown earlier this month.
Allaho should have earned himself a place at Cheltenham after running out a decisive winner at Clonmel’s Surehaul Mercedes-Benz Novice Hurdle. A great deal of hype surrounds Annamix too and she will take some stopping at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Legendary duo Faugheen and Un De Sceaux could also return for one last hurrah.
Elliott and Mullins may have saddled the most winners at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, but Henderson will have emerged as the happiest trainer. He landed two of the three biggest races at the meeting as Altior stormed to victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Buveur D’Air swept aside all comers in the Champion Hurdle. Both went off as heavy favourites and they both justified that status with aplomb, much to the delight of the punters. Henderson has 60 winners over the years at the Cheltenham Festival and he is likely to add to that fine tally in 2019.
Altior is the overwhelming favourite to win the Champion Chase once more, well ahead of Min, Footpad, Sceau Royale and Un De Sceaux.
Buveur D’Air is not fancied quite so heavily to win the Champion Hurdle again after losing that air of invincibility this year, with Apples Jade expected to provide a very strong challenge. Yet Henderson has other prospects too, including Santini and Verdana Blue, and he will be leading the English charge for the Prestbury Cup.
English trainers have been put at a disadvantage by the six-day shutdown caused by an outbreak of equine flu this month. But you can expect trainers to bounce back in time for Cheltenham, with the likes of Dan Skelton, Paul Nicholls and Colin Tizzard all set to bring a number of strong contenders to the meeting. Skelton, who leads the British champion trainer race, is preparing 20 horses for the Cheltenham Festival, while Nicholls has exciting talents like Frodon to call upon, so Elliott and Mullins will certainly not have it all their own way at this eagerly anticipated meeting.
Who will finish as the top Cheltenham trainer?
Despite the depth of talent heading to the festival, it is hard to look past Elliott as he has another extremely strong collection of runners to choose from.