Cheltenham Festival 2021: Who Will Be Top Trainer?
Cheltenham Festival 2021: Who Will Be Crowned Top Trainer?
The biggest names in the business will battle for the honour of being named top trainer when the Cheltenham Festival gets underway on 16th March. Some feared that Ireland¿s leading lights would be unable to travel in full strength due to Covid-19 restrictions and Brexit concerns. However, those fears have now been allayed, and the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott are set to take the meeting by storm. The top trainer award has gone to an Irish trainer every year since 2013, and they are the favourites once again in 2021. These are the leading contenders to finish top of the pile:
The Closutton maestro first won the leading trainer award at Cheltenham back in 2011, and he has loomed large over the festival ever since. He lost out to a resurgent Nicky Henderson in 2012, but then won it four times in a row between 2013 and 2016. Mullins raised his training fees later that year, which marked the end of a successful partnership with racehorse owner Michael O¿Leary, the Ryanair founder. O¿Leary took his runners to the Gordon Elliott stable, and Elliott beat Mullins to the top trainer award in 2017 and 2018.
However, Mullins was back on top form in 2019, when he won the leading trainer award for a sixth time. Last year he saddled a record equalling seven winners at Cheltenham and walked off with his seventh top trainer award. He has 72 Cheltenham Festival winners under his belt, making him the most successful trainer of all-time at the meeting. Mullins is the clear favourite to be named leading trainer for the eighth time this year.
His star name is Al Boum Photo, who will bid to win his third consecutive Cheltenham Gold this year. Al Boum Photo is the 3/1 favourite for the Gold Cup in our horse racing odds, ahead of Henry de Bromhead¿s A Plus Tard and Henderson¿s Champ, who are both priced at 6/1.
Mullins will have a strong hand in most races at the festival. Saint Roi will miss out due to injury, but Allaho, Melon and Min are all expected to contest the Ryanair Chase, while Appreciate It is a leading contender for the Supreme Novices¿ Hurdle and Chacun Pour Soi will defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Monkfish, Asterion Forlonge, Bacardys, Energumene, Blackbow, Brandy Love, Brooklynn Glory, Elimay, Colreevy, Concertista and Cool Jet are some of the other famous names from his stable.
Elliott has been somewhat overshadowed by his compatriot for the past two years, but he has issued an upbeat report on several stable stars at the festival looms. The unbeaten Envoi Allen will return to a happy hunting ground after winning the Champion Bumper in 2019 and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last year. He is the favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase after putting in a fine performance at Punchestown last month.
Zanahiyr is also unbeaten since joining Elliott, while Galvin is primed for the National Hunt Chase. Samcro, a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, could run in the Ryanair Chase. All eyes will be on Tiger Roll in the Cross Country Chase. The two-time Grand National winner failed in his attempt to win the Cross Country for the third year in a row when he finished behind Easyland in 2020, but he could be given one last hurrah in March.
Elliott’s partnership with O’Leary is about to fizzle out – the Ryanair boss announced in 2019 that he would wind down his interests in horse racing over the next five years in order to spend more time with his family – and that could eventually dent his chances of Cheltenham success, but he should be in contention this year, and he is the second favourite to win the award. He also saddled seven winners in 2020, and only narrowly lost out to Mullins, who had more places, so you cannot write him off this time around.
It is now nine years since Henderson was last named top trainer at Cheltenham. In that time, he has seen Mullins edge ahead of him as the most successful trainer in the meeting’s history. However, he has continued to saddle winners in many big races, with Altior, Buveur D’Air and Sprinter Sacre all capturing the public's imagination.
Last year, Henderson’s Epatatante won the Champion Hurdle, while Shishkin landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Dame De Compagnie took the Coral Cup and Champ put in an astonishing performance to win the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase. Epatante, Champ, Altior, Shishkin, and I Am Maximus will spearhead his bid to seize the top trainer award back from his Irish rivals.
Henderson represents Britain’s best chance of winning the award, with Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls considered extreme long shots. Nicholls has finished as the top trainer at Cheltenham six times before, but not since 2009, when he had Kauto Star, Big Buck’s and Master Minded at his disposal. Skelton has never won it. De Bromhead is another long shot, but it generally boils down to a battle between Mullins, Elliott and Henderson, and Mullins has reigned supreme in recent years.
Do you think Willie Mullins can enjoy another successful Cheltenham Festival, or will he be supplanted by Gordon Elliott or Nicky Henderson? Check out our horse racing odds and horse racing spread betting markets and get involved in the action.