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25 Sept 2014

2014/15 British National Hunt Trainers’ Championship

The nights are beginning to draw in now and it is coming to the time of the year when the National Hunt game begins to emerge from the shadow of its Flat season counterpart.
Across the length and breadth of the nation, the handlers of the jumping scene are training up their horses in preparation for what promises to be yet another exciting campaign. Here we will discuss the merits of several trainers’ in their quest to become the British National Hunt Trainers Champion for 2014/15.

Returning stars key

Leading the current market with Betfair is Nicky Henderson, who will surely have a huge say in the destination of this seasons’ title. The Seven Barrows handler has an extensive team of horses in his stable, but the key to the hopes of the Henderson yard could well hinge on some of his major stars returning from injury.

Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig were both huge players who catapulted Henderson to the top of the jumping sphere back in 2012/13 with some sparkling performances, but Simonsig never made a track appearance last term, while Sacre was pulled-up on his only start at Kempton, behind Sire De Grugy, who went on to take his Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham.

While these two horses will not make or break the chances of the Henderson yard, a return to form for both would be hugely significant – especially with so many tempting prizes on offer for Sprinter Sacre at the minimum trip.

Potentially vulnerable

The reigning champion, Paul Nicholls, will be looking to win his ninth title in the past ten years. With the likes of Kauto Star, Master Minded and Denman all retired from the game in recent seasons, combined with the defection of star jockey Ruby Walsh to the Willie Mullins yard in Ireland, Nicholls is more vulnerable to the challenges of the rest than ever before. However, the Ditcheat handler still has many bullets of ammunition to fire amongst his yard to attempt to maintain his dominance of the National Hunt game.

Nicholls has always had a promising group of novices, and with the likes of Irving and Lac Fontana coupled with stable star Silviniaco Conti, another title bid could yet be on the cards, but the lack of current top-class stars in the yard is a major concern, especially at such short odds in the betting.

Major player

Jonjo O’Neill is the current – albeit very early – leader of the trainers’ standings. With the extensive backing of owner JP McManus, alongside the relentless urge for winners that AP McCoy brings, the team from Jackdaws Castle may well be a major player this seasons’ race for the title. O’Neill has plenty of very promising horses at his disposal, including More of That who claimed the World Hurdle at Cheltenham in just his fifth race under rules.

Holywell, was also in the winners’ enclosure at the Festival and at Aintree and is one of the market favourites for the Gold Cup next March. Taquin Du Seuil was also a hugely promising novice chaser last term in bagging two Graded races and is also another weapon for the Irish trainer to utilise. Shutthefrontdoor also went into many notebooks for this seasons’ Grand National with his Irish National win at Fairyhouse back in April, which highlights even further the strength of the emerging O’Neill team.

Best of the rest

David Pipe, Alan King, Phillip Hobbs, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Donald McCain are all trainers who are held in very high regard on the National Hunt circuit, but it seems very unlikely that any of this quintet can seriously challenge the likes of the above three. All of these trainers will surely have their big days over the upcoming calendar, but will lack the consistency of big-prized winners to maintain a serious challenge.

In conclusion

Jonjo O’Neill may yet prove a very serious threat to the likes of Nicholls and Henderson this season. With an ever burgeoning yard, alongside some hugely promising talent, the Jackdaws Castle operation could wrestle the title from their illustrious rivals – who have some question marks to answer. No matter who wins the Trainers’ title for 2014/15, it promises to be yet another fantastic season to look forward to.