The National hunt Champion trainers title in the UK is an accolade that has always been of great importance. The winner is the trainer whose horses have won the most prize money over the season from April to April. Following the dominant era of Martin Pipe and his record breaking 15 titles that included a stretch of 10 in a row between 1996 and 2005, it has moved to a more open field in the last decade. It has been focused on the duel between Henderson and Nicholls with Irish Champion trainer Willie Mullins even beginning to be involved with his domination of Group 1’s in recent years.
Nicky Henderson is the current champion following his stellar season last year that included top performances on the biggest stage at Cheltenham from the likes of Altior and Buveur D’Air in the Arkle and Champion hurdle respectively. This was also backed up with his 1-2 in the RSA on day two as the 2018 Gold cup favourite Might Bite drifted across the track badly up the run in but still managed to get up close home ahead of stablemate Whisper. This was another indication of the incredible ability that the horse possesses as all roads lead to Gold cup glory for the now King George winner.
Henderson is widely regarded as one of the top trainers to have a horse ready for the big occasion and won his first Championship back in the 1985/86 season and followed up the year after. This season Henderson looks to be readying his strongest ever team for Cheltenham with the likes of Altior, Buveur D’Air and Might Bite which will likely bolster his prize money and Championship glory come the end of the season. The latest racing odds by Paddy Power make him the current 1/2 favourite to prevail.
The key challenge to another Henderson victory will come from the prolific Paul Nicholls. The Somerset trainer has been one of the most successful trainers in the history of the sport with over 2000 winners to date. Following his first title back in the 2005/06 season he has rattled off an incredible 10 titles in the 12 year period to date. This just shows the impeccable record he has had in recent times.
Nicholls in more recent times has not had many of those superstar horses for the big group 1 races which is certainly an advantage that Henderson holds over him this season. However he has trained some of the greatest horses of the modern era in the likes of Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s and Master Minded. These key horses have helped to establish Nicholls as the trainer he is today with wins in all the major races. Nicholls also has a Grand National victory on his portfolio following the incredible victory of Neptune Collonges in the 2012 edition by a nose over Sunnyhillboy.
As things stand Nicholls is the current 15/8 second favourite to regain his Championship. Nicholls current stable star and leading light for Cheltenham looks to be the improving grey Politologue. The 7 year old finished fourth in last year’s JLT at Cheltenham behind stars Yorkhill, Top Notch and Disko. However this season he has looked the real deal in winning the Tingle creek with a fantastic round of jumping and then following up in the Desert Orchid chase at Kempton. Again the horse displaying his jumping as a key asset behind his progression. Politologue has now improved his RPR to 170 so is a key challenger for the Champion chase.
As things stand both trainers are neck and neck and have already surpassed prize money of £1.3 million and 75 winners. This is likely to continue throughout the season and it may even reach the last fixture at Sandown as previous to separate these two stars of the UK national hunt racing scene.