The Thomas Pink Leading Trainer Award, presented to the trainer with the most winners at the Cheltenham Festival, has been shared between just three trainers, Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls, since 2006. It’s unlikely that the Award will be heading elsewhere in 2013, with the leading bookmakers betting 8/11 Nicky Henderson, 15/8 Willie Mullins, 10/1 Paul Nicholls and 66/1 bar the three.
Nicky Henderson, who’s now the all-time leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival, courtesy of a record seven winners last year, has assembled arguably his strongest team ever for the Cheltenham Festival. He’s responsible for the ante post favourites in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Arkle Trophy, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Gold Cup, the World Hurdle and the Jewson Novices’ Chase, plus a strong supporting cast. He has a couple of potential shoo-ins, with Sprinter Sacre (2/7) in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Simonsig (5/6) in the Arkle Trophy. Mr. Henderson has already said that he’ll be disappointed if Sprinter Sacre doesn’t win the Queen Mother Champion Chase and that Simonsig wouldn’t be out of place in the Champion Hurdle, so he looks a worthy favourite to be leading trainer at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.
Willie Mullins, who won his first Leading Trainer Award in 2011, invariably brings a strong team over from Ireland and this year saddles ante post favourites for the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, Champion Hurdle and National Hunt Chase, Quevega (4/6), Hurricane Fly (7/4) and Boston Bob (5/1), along with ante post second favourite for the Gold Cup, Sir Des Champs (9/2), among others. Mr. Mullins has also won the Champion Bumper seven times and has a leading chance this year with the beautifully bred Clondaw Court (9/1), who won by 27 lengths on his racecourse debut at Punchestown in November.
Paul Nicholls, who won the Leading Trainer Award four years running between 2006 and 2009, has already lost four-time World Hurdle winner Big Buck’s, Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Al Ferof and Lexus Chase winner Tidal Bay to injury this season, but has plenty of strength in depth and shouldn’t be underestimated. His leading chances at this year’s Festival include Silviniaco Conti (5/1) in the Gold Cup, Zarkandar (5/1) in the Champion Hurdle, Sam Winner (11/2) in the Pertemps Final, Far West (13/2) in the Triumph Hurdle and Rocky Creek (8/1) in the National Hunt Chase. His 5-year-old Unioniste, winner of the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham, reportedly heads for the RSA Chase, for which he’s a 10/1 chance.
Of the trainers at longer prices, David Pipe is likely to send a numerically strong team to the Cheltenham Festival. His main hope appears to be the 7-year-old Dynaste, who’s yet to be seriously challenged in three starts over fences and is a top-priced 9/4 for the RSA Chase. He has no fewer than 14 entries in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle, which he’s looking to win for the first time, while his team could also include the promising novices Goulanes and Gevrey Chambertin and, possibly, Grand Crus, who is currently on treatment for ulcers after disappointing on all three starts this season.