Cheltenham Festival Top Trainer Tips: Willie Mullins the hot favourite

Cheltenham Festival Top Trainer Tips: Willie Mullins has a top team heading to Prestbury Park.
Cheltenham Festival Top Trainer Tips: Willie Mullins has a top team heading to Prestbury Park.

Steve Chambers takes an in-depth look at the race to be crowned Cheltenham Festival top trainer, as Willie Mullins heads into the meeting with a stellar team...

It's been somewhat of an uncharacteristic build up to the 2021 Cheltenham Festival with the furore surrounding Irish trainer Gordon Elliott marring the National Hunt sphere, but with the Cullentra House handler now suspended for the foreseeable and duly handing the training reins over to the Denise Foster, then we can start to look forward to the equine action on the track.

We pick out some of the leading contenders for the title of Cheltenham Festival top trainer and focus on those star performers flying the flag for the handlers, who are aiming to bag a host of winners during the four-day jumping extravaganza.

Willie Mullins - 2/9

Seven winners at last season's Cheltenham Festival handed Willie Mullins a seventh Cheltenham Festival top trainer crown, and the Closutton handler is a red-hot favourite to make it an electric eighth success at the 2021 festival, and he has been installed as a 2/9 shot with the bookmakers, at the time of writing.

An embarrassment of riches will be at the disposal of the legendary Jumps handler and the Co.Carlow trainer's team will be spearheaded by dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo, who is well fancied to emulate the mighty Best Mate by winning three Gold Cups on the bounce.

Strength in depth in all divisions, Mullins will look to kick off the meeting in winning fashion as he saddles Appreciate It in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, while in the next race he will unleash Energumene in the Arkle, but that improving novice chaser will face a notable adversary in the shape of Nicky Henderson's Shishkin. Dominant in the Mares' Hurdle division since its inception in 2008 (trained the winner nine times), Mullins will saddle hotpot Concertista in this year's event, while the Mares' Novices' Hurdle is another area dominated by Mullins (won all five runnings) and he saddles leading player, Hook Up.

Monkfish is arguably the Mullins banker of the week, as the unbeaten chaser is a warm order for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, while Chacun Pour Soi (Champion Chase), Elimay (Mares' Chase), Billaway (Hunter Chase) and Allaho and Min (Ryanair Chase) are just another few fancied contenders to challenge for victory. Add in a plethora of classy handicappers alongside those leading Graded contenders then it just emphasises the strength of the Mullins team, and he is entitled to be a hot favourite.

Henry de Bromhead - 8/1

The fallout from the Gordon Elliott saga has seen some big names venture from Cullentra House to Henry de Bromhead's yard, and having already had a smart team heading to Prestbury Park next week, the Irish handler's squad looks even classier now and he is the 8/1 second favourite to be crowned champion trainer.

Unbeaten star mare Honeysuckle has been the flagship horse for the de Bromhead yard for the last few years and last season's Mares' Hurdle heroine will clash in an epic battle with Epatante in the Champion Hurdle, while the arrival of Envoi Allen sees another big name add to his depth. A scalding hot favourite for the Marsh Novices' Chase on day three, de Bromhead has also acquired leading Triumph Hurdle/Fred Winter fancy Quilixios, while another Cheveley Park star Ballyadam (likely Supreme contender) will bolster the de Bromhead team.

Already in the de Bromhead stable being primed for Cheltenham is crack novice Bob Olinger, who is all set for an epic battled with Gaillard Du Mesnil and Bravemansgame in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, with Eklat De Rire a possible danger to Monkfish in the Brown Advisory. Put The Kettle On (Champion Chase) and A Plus Tard (Cheltenham Gold Cup) are two proven class acts that could feature prominently, so de Bromhead can head to GL50 next week in a confident mood to challenge Mullins, but he does lack the numbers in comparison to Mullins, so will need a host of the aforementioned stars to deliver on the big stage, if he is to be crowned champion.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Nicky Henderson - 10/1

Nicky Henderson was last crowned champion trainer at the Cheltenham Festival all the way back in 2012, but the Seven Barrows handler will fancy his chances of recapturing the trophy this year as he has some exciting equine talents lining up. Arguably the finest talent in training, Shishkin will be at the forefront of team Henderson and last year's Supreme hero will be well fancied to claim Arkle glory on the opening day.

An uncharacteristic prep run in the Game Spirit Chase will hopefully get last year's RSA Chase winner Champ warmed up nicely for a crack at Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while the multiple Cheltenham Festival winner Altior will be back at the venue he's excelled at in recent times and will be looking to down Chacun Pour Soi in the Champion Chase.

Reigning Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante is well fancied to emulate stablemate Buveur D'Air by winning back-to-back Champion Hurdles, but the latter will not be heading to Gloucestershire as Henderson announced Buveur D'Air will be heading to Aintree in April. A host of leading challengers in many of the Grade 1 events, Henderson has a multitude of class acts lining up next week, and while he will have some eye-catching handicappers during the week, he may struggle to reach the heights the Mullins yard can reach, so he will face an uphill battle to sit top of the trainers' standings come the end of the Martin Pipe.

Denise Foster - 16/1

Handed the gargantuan task of running Gordon Elliott's yard while he serves his suspension, Denise Foster may not gain instant approval from the racing fraternity, as she looks to repair the cracks caused by Elliott's ill-judgement, but she's entitled to be given a fair crack of the whip, and will have a decent team heading over to Cheltenham.

Stars like Envoi Allen and Ballyadam may have left Cullentra House in the aftermath of photo-gate, but a host of owners have decided to stick by the stable and will be hoping that Foster can mastermind a Cheltenham Festival success. Some classy Gigginstown House Stud-owned horses will take their chance with dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll bidding for more festival success in the Cross Country Chase, while Abacadabras is a lively outsider in the Champion Hurdle, with Torygraph a smart prospect in the Albert Bartlett

Dual Pertemps hero Sire Du Berlais will be looking to shine in Graded company and is third favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle, and that JP McManus-owned raider looks to have a great chance, while leading Triumph Hurdle contender Zanahiyr is another that could claim victory for Foster. Add in an array of smart handicappers, the Foster team, who are a 12/1 best price have to be respected, albeit a victory would not be celebrated from all areas of the sporting world.

Other Contenders

It's been over a decade since Paul Nicholls was crowned top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival (last won in 2009), and the Ditcheat handler will find it tough to claim glory again this year, and is as big as 33/1 with some firms to be crowned top trainer. Politologue (Champion Chase), Bravemansgame (Ballymore), Houx Gris (Fred Winter) and Next Destination (NH Chase/Brown Advisory) are a few notable names from the Nicholls yard, but that quartet face stiff tests and it's hard to see all four winning. A few handicappers from the Nicholls yard will like to play prominent roles during the week, but the Somerset handler will need a whole amount of luck to claim glory and is one to ignore.

Dan and Harry Skelton have been rising up the ranks in recent seasons, with the latter challenging for the jockeys' title this season, but it's Dan Skelton that is worth looking at in terms of the leading trainer, and like Nicholls he is a 33/1 shot. Exciting chasers Allmankind (Arkle), Shan Blue (Marsh Novices' Chase) and Nube Negra (Champion Chase) are standout contenders, while former Mares' Hurdle winner Roksana will bid to regain a crown she won back in 2019. Third Time Lucki is entered for the Supreme and the County and has to figure regardless what race he lines up in, but like Nicholls the Skelton team lack the depth needed to claim the crown.

Verdict

Hoepfully the 2021 Cheltenham Festival will see racing in its best light. Competitors, equine and human will be battling it out hard on the track, with the cream rising to the top. Well, in the training ranks there's one man that is sure to dominate this week as Willie Mullins can steamroller his rivals and land the top trainer crown, but his nearest pursuer could be that of Denise Foster, whose instant infamous rise to fame could see her 'train' a few Cheltenham Festival winners, and she can chase home Mullins, while the de Bromhead team can claim third spot.

 

Predicted Cheltenham Festival Top Trainer Standings:

  • 1st - Willie Mullins
  • 2nd - Denise Foster
  • 3rd - Henry de Bromhead
Cheltenham Festival Races
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