Nicholls Ready To Rattle Up The Winners
Top Cheltenham Trainer
In recent years, the accolade for Leading Trainer has gone to Willie Mullins, who left the festival in front on three occasions during the last four years, and looks set for another solid week via an array of leading fancies.
Amongst the Mullins battalion are Un De Sceaux (4/7, Arkle Chase), Douvan (7/4, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), Annie Power (7/2, OLBG Mares’ Hurdle), Don Poli (3/1, NH Chase), Nichols Canyon (4/1, Neptune Novices’ Hurdle) and Vautour (9/2 Arkle Chase) – enough to get Mullins’ followers excited.
With six runners at 9/2 or shorter, it would be a shock if Mullins failed to bag at least two winners from that formidable group, and may lead to odds-on backers steaming into the 1/6 about Mullins topping the table once more.
However, others may point out that each of his last three Leading Trainer titles here were achieved by a margin of just one winner.
Past Cheltenham Festivals
4 wins – Willie Mullins
3 wins – David Pipe, Jonjo O’Neill
2 wins – Jim Culloty, Philip Hobbs
5 wins – Willie Mullins
4 wins – Nicky Henderson
2 wins – Colin Tizzard, Tony Martin, Nigel Twiston-Davies
7 wins – Nicky Henderson
3 wins – Willie Mullins, Jonjo O’Neill
2 wins – Paul Nicholls, Donald McCain, Malcolm Jefferson
4 wins – Willie Mullins
3 wins – Paul Nicholls
2 wins – H De Bromhead, G Elliott, P Hobbs, D Pipe, N Henderson
The above stats show that Mullins only just got his nose in front on several occasions, and while Paul Nicholls disappointed here the last two years, he has enjoyed a much better season and could be the one to upset Mullins.
Nicholls is not short of runners with chances either, courtesy of Silviniaco Conti (3/1, Gold Cup), Ptit Zig (7/2, JLT Novices’ Chase), Dodging Bullets (4/1, Champion Chase), Zarkandar and Saphir Du Rheu (9/2, World Hurdle) and Vibrato Valtat (5/1, Arkle Chase).
While there aren’t any odds-on shots to boast like in the Mullins camp, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock should Nicholls start rattling up the winners, and at 6/1 to win the crown, he looks value.
Nicky Henderson is next in the lists at 7/1, and certainly knows what it takes to send the winners out at this meeting, winning the title in 2012 and sending out 14 winners during the last four years alone.
Henderson is also hitting top form at the right time, having enjoyed a treble from as many runners last Saturday, and has plenty of winning options via the likes of Peace And Co (7/4 Triumph Hurdle), Sprinter Sacre (3/1, Champion Chase), L’Ami Serge (4/1, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) and Ma Filleule (5/1, Ryanair Chase).
Punters looking at the bigger prices my consider 33/1 about Gordon Elliott, who has several good prospects in Don Cossack (7/2, Ryanair Chase), No More Heroes (7/1, Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle), Clarcam (8/1, Grand Annual Chase).
It’s hard to see Alan King winning the crown at 50/1, but Jonjo O’Neill at the same price would not be out of the question in Tony McCoy’s last season, as O’Neill would dearly like to tee-up a few winners for the retiring champ. And who knows, if McCoy gets on a roll, then O’Neill – who sent out three winners in 2014 and 2012 – could go well at a huge price.