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Paul Nicholls vs Nicky Henderson - Who will come out on top at the Festival?

Jonathan Vine in News 4 Feb 2019
Paul Nicholls (left) and Nicky Henderson (right).

We take a look closer looks at two of Britain’s most successful jumps trainers and analyse their squads for the 2019 Cheltenham Festival to see who will enjoy the most fruitful Festival.

Irish raiders have ruled the roost at Cheltenham for the past couple of season, much to the delight of their traveling fans. While Britain may have a tough time matching the achievements of Messrs Mullins and Elliott as the Festival this year, there’s still fierce competitions between the home-based trainers to see who can clock up the most winners and there are two trainers who will be hoping for particularly successful meetings at the “greatest show on turf”.

After the legendary Martin Pipe hung up his boots in the mid-2000s, National Hunt racing has been dominated by two training powerhouses. Paul Nicholls lifted the Champion Trainer crown every year between 2006 and 2012, with Nicky Henderson – a back-to-back Champion Trainer during the mid-80s – battling back in recent seasons, topping the training standings in three of the past six years.

Henderson has won the race to be crowned Champion Trainer for the past two seasons, facing little in the way of competition on both occasions. So far in 2018/19, however, things are a little different and Nicholls is likely to head into the spring with a narrow lead.

As usual, the Cheltenham Festival will be crucial in deciding who will win the battle to be Britain’s Champion Trainer. Here’s a quick look at the milestones both Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have achieved during their careers and a look at their potentials teams which could take the Cheltenham Festival by storm.

Tale Of The Tape

Paul Nicholls Nicky Henderson

Years As A Trainer

27 41

Champion Trainer Titles

10 5

Career Winners

2,950+ 3,050+

Cheltenham Festival Winners

43 60

Gold Cup Winners

4 2

Wins (2018/19 Season)

77 109

Prize Money (2018/19 Season)

£1,820+ £1,690+

Best Chance at 2019 Cheltenham Festival

Clan Des Obeaux       Altior              

Bookmaker Ambassador For

Betfair         Unibet

Nico de Boinville riding Altior (left) clear the last to win The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

For the fourth season on the bounce, Altior will lead the troops from Seven Barrows into battle at Cheltenham. No-one has managed to prove themselves as a credible rival to the reigning Champion Chaser and a fourth Festival success for Altior seems a mere formality.

Buveur D’Air has also dominated at Cheltenham recently, but the two-time Champion Hurdle has hit a couple of speed bumps this term. Defeat at the hands of Verdana Blue over Christmas saw his invincible aura shattered and Buveur D’Air could face stiff competition in the form of Apple’s Jade and Laurina, with both Irish mares gaining seven-pounds on the defending Champion.

Away from the first two Championship races, Nicky Henderson has a strong hand to play in the three novice hurdles. Angel’s Breath leads the way in the Supreme betting, with Mister Fisher a lively outsider. Champ’s strength in the Ballymore betting could see Birchdale head to the Albert Bartlett, with Champagne Platinum likely to join his stablemates in the Supreme.

Ok Corral currently tops the ante-post betting for the National Hunt Chase, with Epatante and Adjali sitting prominently in the markets for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and Triumph Hurdle respectively. Beware The Bear is fancied by some in the Ultima Handicap Chase, as is Rather Be, who looks likely to take his chance in the Brown Advisory Plate. 

The Seven Barrows maestro will fancy his chances in the RSA, with Santini and On The Blind Side likely to fly the flag. Looking ahead to the Gold Cup, however, things look a little bleak. Might Bite headed the market for a period back in the autumn, but his results have slipped dramatically since and it will take a minor miracle to see Henderson list the Gold Cup for the third time in the spring.

Harry Cobden pushes Clan Des Obeaux to victory in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

Paul Nicholls, on the other hand, boasts a decent chance of reclaiming National Hunt racing’s most famous prize. Clan Des Obeaux came of age in the King George and has run well at Cheltenham in the past. Course form is also on the side of Frodon, who looks set for a Gold Cup tilt after scoring a solid victory in the Cotswold Chase on Trials Day.

The Ryanair remains an option for Frodon, but with Politologue likely to take his chance in a wide-open renewal of Cheltenham’s fifth major, Frodon looks destined for the Gold Cup. Cyrname could rub shoulders with Politologue before the start of the Ryanair too - if Nicholls is able to help his bold front-runner overcome a fear of left-handed tracks.

This year’s Arkle also looks decidedly open, with Henry VI winner Dynamite Dollars sitting prominently in the market. Topofthegame has been touched off on both his starts so far this term, but the Kauto Star runner-up could still be a big player in either the JLT or the RSA Novices’ Chase.

Quel Destin has been in fine form this season and would be a big player in either the Triumph or the Fred Winter. Getaway Trump will put his Supreme chances to the test in the Betfair Hurdle this month, with Posh Trish on course for a bold bid in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

While Nicky Henderson may be thin on the ground when it comes to dangerous handicappers, Nicholls has plenty dotted around his Ditcheat barracks. Danny Kirwan could be a contender in the Martin Pipe, with Diego Du Charmil, Dolos and defending champion, Le Prezien holding obvious chances in the Grand Annual.

Pacha Du Polder will be out to make it a hat-trick of victories in the Foxhunters Chase. Grand Sancy and Casko D’Airy are improving hurdlers to look out for in races like the Coral Cup, while other stable stars like Adrian Du Pont, Give Me A Copper, Secret Investor, Ibis Du Rheu and Black Corton cannot be counted out in any of the staying handicap chases.

So, the big question remains, which of Britain’s leading trainers will collect the most victories at this year’s Cheltenham Festival? The answer, I’m afraid, is inconclusive. It’s simply too close to call. All we can hope for is that both taste multiple successes at this year’s meeting, as Britain attempts to win back the highly-prized Prestbury Cup.

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Paul Nicholls vs Nicky Henderson - Who will come out on top at the Festival?

We take a look closer looks at two of Britain’s most successful jumps trainers and analyse their squads for the 2019 Cheltenham Festival to see who will enjoy the most fruitful Festival.

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