2020 Jumps Trainers' Championship: Henderson and Nicholls battle for glory

Nicky Henderson was crowned champion trainer in the 2019/20 National Hunt season.
Nicky Henderson was crowned champion trainer in the 2019/20 National Hunt season.

Steve Chambers previews the 2020 Jumps Trainers' Championship, which will see Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls lock horns in a quest to be crowned champion trainer...

For the last fifteen years, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls have dominated the National Hunt Trainers' Championship, as the two heavyweight Jumps stables continue to record a plethora of big-race winners to add to their glittering CVs, and the 2020/21 season appears to have a similar feel to it, with the Seven Barrows maestro locking horns with the Ditcheat master in another epic duel for championship supremacy.

In that last decade and a half it's mainly been Nicholls that has come out on top of the trainers' duel, as the Somerset-based trained has been crowned champion trainer on eleven occasions, while Henderson has amassed four successes, but that quartet of wins have come over the last ten years, with the veteran handler winning three of the last four trainers' titles.

So, we head into a new season and the pair are dominating the Jumps Trainers' Championship betting once again, with Nicholls available at 4/7, at the time of writing, while Henderson is on offer at 5/4, with the rest of the field available at 33/1 and bigger.

We take a look at this year's championship race, and pick out some of the flagship horses for each of the trainers, and then look at whether any left-field trainer can make a shock challenge for title glory!

Nicky Henderson - 5/4

A real factor of being crowned champion is the ability to train a host of big-race winners during the season, as the championship is decided on who has earned the most prize money during the Jumps campaign. Nicky Henderson is certainly a man that is used to winning Graded contests alongside a host of valuable pots, and looking at the Seven Barrows string in the 2020/21 season, Henderson is sure to be fighting it out in a plethora of big-race successes.

With over 60 Cheltenham Festival wins on his CV, Henderson is a man that is a regular in the Prestbury Park winner's enclosure, and a brief look at the ante-post betting for a host of festival races sees Henderson's horses sitting prominently in a lot of them.

The opening day of the meeting has seen Henderson amass a number of winners down the years and last year's Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante will look to retain her crown again in 2021, and could be seen in the valuable Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park, while last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Shishkin is the current market leader for the Arkle Challenge Trophy.

Other flag-bearers for the Seven Barrows yard this season will be Santini, who was a gallant runner-up in last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup, and he will look to go one better this time around, as well as bidding for King George VI Chase glory, while stable stalwart Altior will return once again for another campaign competing over two miles and races like the Champion Chase and Tingle Creek could be on his race plan for the new season.

One race that has evaded Henderson throughout his illustrious career is the Grand National, and that valuable prize has occasionally been a defining factor on who is crowned champion trainer, but while the aforementioned Santini is currently around a 25/1 shot for the Aintree showpiece, it's unlikely he will take his chance, so Henderson could struggle to challenge for the most valuable pot in the racing calendar.

Henderson often lacks firepower during the week, meaning he can't add to his total with the regularity that Paul Nicholls will, so most of Henderson's challengers will be seen running at weekends. Alongside his top notch Grade 1 contenders, Henderson will unleash some smart performers in a host of notable Grade 2 and Grade 3 races, while the odd handicapper could be seen competing in valuable pots over the next six months. To be a major challenger, Henderson will need his stars to sparkle in the elite races, but as is always the case with the Seven Barrows maestro, he will be a regular winner of the top races, so he is sure to unleash a strong challenge for a seventh champion trainer title.

Paul Nicholls - 4/7

Dominant between 2006 and 2016, winning nine training titles during that ten-year period, Paul Nicholls will be eager to recapture the crown Henderson claimed last season, and the legendary Jumps handler, very much like Henderson, will have a strong contingent heading into the new season.

While the Henderson operation will have a bundle of fancied contenders in premier Cheltenham Festival races, Nicholls' leading players will be a lot more sparse at the Prestbury Park extravaganza. Returning 2019 RSA Chase hero Topofthegame could prove to be a flagship horse for the yard and he is set to make his return in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, and if he comes back in top form then he could turn into a real Cheltenham Gold Cup contender.

Cyrname rocketed back into the limelight last weekend with an authoritative victory in the Charlie Hall Chase, and he could be seen next competing in the King George VI Chase before a possible tilt at the Ryanair Chase or Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Clan Des Obeaux has proven to be a solid performer for the Nicholls team over the last few seasons and he will bid for a third King George crown at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, and while the Cheltenham Gold Cup won't be on his radar this season, he can still amass some decent prize money for the yard.

He may not have the firepower at the highest level, but Nicholls has long been the master of placing is horses to pick up prize money. Whether it's a midweek novices' chase at Exeter, or a valuable handicap hurdle, Nicholls has been an expert of adding to his burgeoning prize money funds, and it's with regularity you see the Somerset handler notching up doubles and treble at midweek meetings. While lots of his wins during the season may not propel his prize money up significantly, it all adds up over the season, which runs until the end of April, and if the race for the title gets close in the final few weeks then Nicholls will unleash his entire string to try and claim a memorable 11th victory.

Trading as the favourite with the bookmakers at the time of writing, Nicholls will be the man to beat and having amassed over £400k in prize money he has already taken an early lead, but Henderson's stable will be soon clicking into top gear and his quest for another crown will hot up as we head into the middle of November and into the busy Christmas period.

Other Contenders

The betting would suggest it's a two-horse race yet again, with the chasing pack to Henderson and Nicholls available at odds of 33/1 and bigger, and it's hard to see any of the trainers mentioned here challenging. Colin Tizzard has some really smart chasers in his grasp, with the likes of Lostintranslation and The Big Breakaway likely to cause a stir over fences this season, but he lacks the strength in depth.

Dan Skelton is a man that can rack up a century of winners a season, but while he is a regular winner during the week and in the odd big race, Skelton lacks the qualities Nicholls and Henderson have at their grasp, so it's hard to see him play a part. Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott are sure to be fighting tooth and nail for glory in the Irish championship, but while they will notch up some notable Cheltenham Festival winners, they will keep their big guns for some of the elite races in the Emerald Isle, so will find it extremely tough to land a blow on British soil.

Jonjo O'Neill, Alan King and Philip Hobbs are three huge names on these shores, and the star triumvirate know how to get a horse to perform on the big occasion, but it's an almighty task to keep up with the Henderson/Nicholls juggernaut, and that pair will play out a stunning clash over the winter and spring, with one of them claiming the coveted trophy at the end of the season.

2021 Cheltenham Festival
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