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Monday 6 January 2020

What Do Cheltenham Gold Cup Trainer Stats Reveal?

Everyone connected with jumps horse racing - jockeys, owners and trainers - all want to win the blue riband event of the sport, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. 

The 2020 renewal looks more competitive than ever, with the picture heading into this new decade looking far from clear. Gold Cup contenders will emerge between now and when the Cheltenham Festival showpiece takes place on Friday, 13 March. 

What do 20-year trainer trends about the Gold Cup reveal? Let's find out.

Law of averages highlights Nicholls 

Horse racing is like any other sport. If you're not in, then you can't win - and Ditcheat handler Paul Nicholls has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup more times than any other trainer since 1999, with four successes. 

However, he has been blessed with a raft of legendary staying steeplechasers like See More Business, Kauto Star and Denman during the last 20 years. Even when these equine greats didn't win, they more often than not finished in the first four. 

An impressive haul of 14 placed efforts in the Gold Cup reaches a cut-off point in 2014, however. Nicholls hasn't had a runner better than fifth since then, and last won it in 2009. Over the last 20 years, he's trained the King George VI Chase winner 10 times. 

That three-mile test at Kempton on Boxing Day is easier to get than the three-and-a-quarter miles of the Gold Cup around the undulations of Cheltenham. Nicholls is adamant dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux is a stronger horse this season, so it's no wonder he's 6/1 with bet365 for Festival glory.

Mullins may have cracked Gold Cup puzzle

There are very few races that master Irish trainer Willie Mullins hasn't won, but a maiden Cheltenham Gold Cup success only came last season courtesy of Al Boum Photo. Prior to that, the Closutton handler had gone close on nine previous occasions with placed horses.


Mullins tried to crack the Gold Cup with stable greats Florida Pearl, Hedgehunter, Sir Des Champs and Djakadam, but just couldn't quite get there. Reigning Cheltenham champ Al Boum Photo is having another light campaign, presumably with the aim of achieving that rare feat of defending his crown. 

Kemboy is the other top Mullins staying chaser, but the way he jumped out alarmingly to his right as a beaten favourite in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas is cause for concern. Cheltenham is a left-handed track and forfeiting ground like that is a clear negative. 

Al Boum Photo remains the best hope that County Carlow trainer Mullins has. He is the 5/1 favourite in the latest horse racing betting on the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup despite losing to Kemboy at the Punchestown Festival after last year's triumph.

Henderson best this decade

Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson is the only man to saddle two Gold Cup winners in the 2010s. Long Run and Bobs Worth took the 2011 and 2013 renewals, but since the latter, he has just one horse - the quirky Might Bite - placed in the Cheltenham showpiece. 

This shouldn't reflect badly upon Henderson, nor should Nicholls' decade-long wait to win the Gold Cup again. It is all about the ammunition they have to fire with many top staying chasers remaining in Ireland. Henderson hopes he has a hand to play in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup courtesy of Santini. A lightly-raced horse from the Seven Barrows stable, he has always been trained with a tilt at this very much in mind. Santini is an 8/1 shot for Gold Cup glory.