Given that it’s the most prestigious – and lucrative – meeting on the National Hunt calendar, it’s no wonder that the best trainers and the biggest yards are keen to get their tanks on the lawn for the Cheltenham Festival each year.
To offer some context, the likes of Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Nigel Twiston-Davies have each saddled more than 1,000 runners at the Festival during their illustrious careers. That shows just how important Cheltenham is for trainers in their quest for prize money and honours.
But, of course, at a time when the expenses of running a yard are increasing beyond measure in line with inflation and the cost of living crisis, many racehorse trainers and owners are faced with a tough decision on how many horses to take to Prestbury Park each March – if they plan to go at all.
Alan King, the multiple Cheltenham winner that has saddled triumphant horses in the Arkle, Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase to name just three, has revealed that for the 2023 meeting he will be travelling with just two horses to Gloucestershire, with no room in his squad for ‘social runners’.
It perhaps helps that Edwardstone, his prized asset, is expected to contend to some tune in the Champion Chase, but this is the first time in more than 30 years that King won’t have an entry on the first day of the Festival.
So while he will be keeping a low profile around Prestbury Park, there’s plenty of other trainers who will be travelling mob-handed with dozens of horses. So which trainer has had the most runners at the Cheltenham Festival?
Which Trainer Has the Most Runners at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival?
Given that the Cheltenham Festival dates back well over a century, it’s of course likely that the trainers that have been around the longest will have had the most Cheltenham Festival entries.
But some travel to Prestbury Park with the idea that quantity is king, with the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott the most prolific in recent years.
It’s no wonder that they are two of the most decorated trainers at the Festival then, with nobody able to eclipse Mullins’ fine haul of 88 winners prior to the 2023 edition.
One of the major bugbears for fans of British racing is just how uncompetitive domestic trainers have been against the Irish raiders – indeed, the BHA has introduced a raft of rule changes to help make domestic horses more competitive.
The numbers don’t tell the whole tale, however, given how many more Irish-trained horses compete at the Festival. For context, here’s how many horses the top trainers had declared for the opening two days of the 2023 meeting alone:
If racing is a numbers game, it’s not hard to see why the Irish tend to prevail at Cheltenham. Mullins will run four times more horses than his British counterparts on the opening two days of the Festival in 2023, with Elliott enjoying three times more entries than most British trainers.
Although the Irish will outnumber the Brits on the starting line, are they generally more successful?
Who Has Had the Most Winners at the Cheltenham Festival?
It helps when you have numerical superiority, of course, but the fact that Mullins has won the champion trainer trophy at the Cheltenham Festival in eight of the ten years is down to his ability to prepare his horses for the unique challenges that the Prestbury Park track presents.
British stalwarts Nicky Henderson (72) and Paul Nicholls (46) feature on the all-time list in second and third respectively, but the last time either of them won the champion trainer accolade was 2012 – since then, they have been usurped by the younger Gordon Elliott, who has enjoyed 25 winners at the Festival in less than a decade.
Incredibly, there’s a trainer that can boast a better strike rate at the Festival than any of the trainers mentioned so far….
Which Trainer Has the Best Win Ratio at the Cheltenham Festival?
A quiet and unassuming type, Gavin Cromwell is rarely mentioned on the list of the best trainers.
But with a small stable of horses, the Irishman has won a stack of races at the Cheltenham Festival – including the Supreme Hurdle twice and the Champion Hurdle.
Cromwell’s Danestown yard is situated a stone’s throw from the Navan racecourse, a sweeping left-handed racecourse with a tough uphill finish – his horses are therefore regularly schooled in Cheltenham-esque conditions.
And it shows. Here’s the strike rate of all trainers still active at the Cheltenham Festival since 2012:
Best Cheltenham Festival Win Ratios – 2012 to 2022
|Henry de Bromhead||142||15||10.60%|
It’s a small sample size, of course, but Cromwell has shown that it’s always size that matters when it comes to training Cheltenham Festival winners.