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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Trainers you may want to have on your side at the Cheltenham Festival

Gordon Elliott: celebrates the win of Don Cossack in the 2016 Gold Cup
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Almost every leading jumper in Britain and Ireland is aimed at the Cheltenham Festival, making it fiercely difficult to find winners. However, there are some trainers who whose runners are always worth noting. Here, we run down the main players and look at the races they thrive in most

Gordon Elliott

What better place to start than with last year's top trainer? Elliott had his first winners at the festival in 2011 but has already become a fixture, saddling six winners last year to take his festival total to 14. He has a particularly good record in handicap hurdles and chases for amateur riders, with four wins in each, and last year became a major force in the Grade 1s, with three such wins taking his overall tally to five.

Willie Mullins

Elliott pipped Mullins on countback last year, but Mullins was the main man in five of the previous six years and again brings a stacked team to a meeting at which he has saddled 54 winners in total. That 54 unsurprisingly covers all manner of races – the Gold Cup is the main one that still eludes him – but the man who used to be known as the bumper specialist now does particularly well in the mares' races, as well as the novice Grade 1s and handicap hurdles.

Nicky Henderson

The winningmost trainer in festival history has a good chance of holding on to that position, given the strength of the squad he has assembled. He has saddled 58 winners at the meeting, boasting the best record on nine occasions. He does especially well in the Grade 1s, especially with fancied runners, and horses at bigger prices in handicaps over 2m4f or further. He has won the Triumph Hurdle a record six times and saddles this year's favourite Apple's Shakira. 

Champions: Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson meet up for a pre-festival drink

Jessica Harrington

The first lady of Irish racing saddled three winners at last year's meeting, taking her total at the festival to 11. Six of her seven Grade 1 wins have come over fences, while she has also won the Grand Annual and County Hurdle twice. Eight of her 11 winners have come in races over two miles.

Paul Nicholls

He has been top trainer at the meeting six times, with a total of 41 winners, but those looking to find a Ditcheat winner will have lowered their sights since the days of Big Buck's, Master Minded, Denman and Kauto Star. Nicholls is now more of a threat in the handicaps –especially over hurdles. Seven of his last nine winners have been in such contests, while 13 of his last 16 were hurdlers. He does very well with young, unexposed types.

Henry de Bromhead

Perhaps an unusual name for such a list, given he endured a barren run at the festival from 2011 until last year, but before that he won an Arkle, a Cross Country and Champion Chase. Losing his biggest owner was a factor for the time he spent in the festival doldrums, but last year he was back with a bang, with Special Tiara giving him a second Champion Chase and proving his proficiency with two-mile chasers. He also saddled two seconds and two third and has an arguably even stronger team this year.

Nigel Twiston-Davies

Twiston-Davies has saddled 17 festival winners and the local trainer has a superb record in the Grade 1s, with ten winners. Eight of those were novices (if you include Ballyandy's Bumper), while he has also won each of the amateur rider contests, utilising his prodigious conveyor belt of talented young riders. He has also won the Pertemps twice, so give his runners in that a second look.

Loved up: Nigel Twiston-Davies plants a kiss on The New One

Jonjo O'Neill

Forza Milan, at 14-1 for the Pertemps, is his only entry priced shorter than 20-1, but he has won that race four times and his festival record of 26 winners overall makes him worthy of respect. 

His last Cheltenham Festival scorerr was Minella Rocco in the 2016 National Hunt Chase. That horse was second in the Gold Cup last year and is 20-1 to go one better next week.

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He does very well with young, unexposed types and seven of his last nine winners have been in handicaps while 13 of his last 16 were hurdlers
E.W. Terms
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