Aside from the Aintree Grand National there can surely be no more highly anticipated horse racing event or Festival held in the UK than the Cheltenham Festival.
In the past decade, the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at the Cheltenham Festival has been presented to just four trainers, Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls. Mullins, Henderson and Nicholls are, in fact, the three most successful trainers in the history of the Festival, with 61, 60 and 43 winners, respectively. By contrast, Gordon Elliott is a relative newcomer, who didn’t saddle his first Festival winner until 2011, but already has 22 winners to his name, including a record-equalling eight in 2018.
At the time of writing, it’s 16/1 bar anyone other than Elliott, Mullins or Henderson winning the Irish Leading Trainer Award in 2019 – Nicholls is a 33/1 chance in the betting odds, despite leading the trainers’ championship – but we thought we’d have a look at the record of some less-heralded trainers who’ve paid their way at the Festival over the years.
Jonjo O’Neill: 26 Cheltenham Festival Winners
Nowadays the Master of Jackdaws Castle, in Temple Guiting, Gloucestershire, less than 30 minutes’ drive from Prestbury Park, Jonjo O’Neill trained his first Festival winner, Danny Connors in the Pertemps Final in 1991, from his original base in Penrith, Cumbria. He has won the Leading Trainer Award just once, in 2003, but other highlights include winning the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Iris’s Gift in 2004 and More Of That in 2014 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Synchronised in 2012.
Philip Hobbs: 19 Cheltenham Festival Winners
Somerset trainer Philip Hobbs saddled his first Festival winner, Moody Man in the County Hurdle, in 1990 and, although he is unlikely to win Leading Trainer Award, his runners are always worth a second look. His most recent success was with Defi Du Seuil, in the Triumph Hurdle, in 2017, but he also won the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Flagship Uberalles, in 2002 and the Champion Hurdle, with Rooster Booster, in 2003.
Edward O’Grady: 18 Cheltenham Festival Winners
Co. Tipperary trainer Edward O’Grady saddled his first Festival winner, Mr. Midland, in the National Hunt Chase way back in 1974, but has since added 17 more to his tally. His victories include Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Flame Gun in 1978 and Mountrivers in 1980, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper twice, with Mucklemeg in 1994 and Pizarro in 2002 , the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle twice, with Golden Cygnet in 1978 and Back In Front in 2003 and the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle twice, with Drumlargan in 1980 and Mister Donovan in 1982. Admittedly, O’Grady hasn’t saddled a winner at the Festival since 2006, when he won the Coral Cup with Sky’s The Limit, but he remains the third most successful Irish trainer of all time at the March showpiece meeting.