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We only had to see the joy on Willie Mullins’ face last year when he just about pipped Henry De Bromhead for leading Cheltenham Festival trainer honours to see how much it means.
Every trainer in Britain and Ireland wants to finish the week as a top dog, showing not only their skills as a handler but also their might in having a large enough string to get the job done.
Previously, British trainers Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson would have been favourites, but nowadays Willie Mullins tends to dominate with the constant threat of Gordon Elliott lurking over him. Here are the potential top 5 trainers at the 2022 meeting.
Naturally, Mullins is the ante-post favourite yet again. Despite the brilliant week had by Henry De Bromhead, Mullins still pipped him right at the death to claim his seventh leading trainer title in 2021.
Mullins is a born winner. A dual Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer, it’s already clear that he has a ton of ammunition lined up and ready to fire in 2022.
Mullins now has 78 Cheltenham Festival winners in his career and will be hitting three figures before we know it. With the likes of Appreciate It, Kilcruit, Sir Gerhard and Monkfish to look forward to it’s about quality with this trainer every bit as much as quantity.
Henry De Bromhead
De Bromhead was a major factor in Rachael Blackmore becoming leading Cheltenham rider in 2021. The Irishman also nearly pipped legend Willie Mullins to top trainer honours and he will definitely be looking to increase his festival tally of 15 festival winners.
De Bromhead trained the Gold Cup 1-2 last year with Minella Indo and A Plus Tard, two horses he has high hopes fore once again in 2022.
His amazing hurdling mare Honeysuckle will doubtless be back at Cheltenham to try for a second Champion Hurdle triumph, while his younger horses should now start to come more and more to the fore in races such as the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Previously the confirmed number 2 behind Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott wasn’t allowed to train horses officially at last year’s festival having been banned from the sport.
He was still taking a day-to-day hand in things as Denise Foster took over the licence, while some of his horses were moved elsewhere including the excellent Sir Gerhard who is now with Willie Mullins.
Gordon Elliott has been buying some nice new horses of late and will certainly have a strong hand come March. He still has the backing of Gigginstown Stud who provide him with many of his winners, though with that operation shrinking, some horses having left and Tiger Roll perhaps not what he was, it will be a little tougher for him these days.
Irish trainers completely dominated affairs in 2021 and Britain needs something, or someone, new to counterchallenge. That person could well be Dan Skelton.
Paul Nicholls still has a very powerful yard but is increasingly moving away from preparing every big-hitter simply for Cheltenham – a wise move overall.
Dan, along with jockey brother Harry, is increasingly powerful in British jumps racing and it is clear he is ready to challenge the big Irish raiders soon. He may need to target more of the handicaps and less of the Grade 1’s, but if he nails a few of those he is not out of the running for leading trainer.
Along with Nicholls, Nicky Henderson has been the leading force in British National Hunt racing for some time.
He had a difficult 2021 Cheltenham Festival, both of his runners bowing out early in the Gold Cup for example. He did land the Arkle impressively with Shishkin however and that horse will now be a very warm order for the upcoming Champion Chase.
A few of Henderson’s former big guns, such as Buveur D’Air, Santini and Altior he may not be able to call on, so it’ll be interesting to see how some of his novices perform as the season goes on.