Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have dominated the Top Trainer award at the Cheltenham Festival for the past few years but that has not been the case at the other great Spring National Hunt Festival at Aintree.
In recent history it has been the Master of Jackdaws Castle who has stepped forward for that particular role taking the leading trainer award in four of the last nine years. Last year as well as recording a thrilling first success in the John Smith’s Grand national with Don’t Push It he recorded a further two winners to pip both Nicholls and Henderson who also recorded three winners. However it was the placings that were secured by O’Neill that sealed another Aintree title.
As we previously stated this was the fourth time that the Gloucestershire handler had taken the award following on from titles in 2002, 2003 and 2007, he was also narrowly denied in 2004 when the former champion jump jockey saddled two winners alongside Martin Pipe, but lost out as the title was decided on total prize money that year.
O’Neill has had some notable successes at Aintree headlined by that Grand National success last year but it he really needs watching in the handicaps where he has a very good overall record. Anyone looking to bet on 2011 Grand National should bear this in mind.
We mentioned those Kings of Cheltenham earlier on in the piece and overall they have a poor record at Aintree. Nicholls despite being the dominant force in jump racing in recent years has only once been the top trainer at the John Smith’s Grand National Meeting when recording an impressive five wins in 2008 and surely his superiority would have been greater if his two main hopes for the week – Master Minded and Kauto Star – had not been beaten at short odds. Those looking for Grand National 2011 tips should remember that Nicholls does not have the best record in the race though.
Likewise Henderson has yet to gain a similar level of success at Aintree, although his three winners last year was a marked improvement on past years, he also scored on three occasions in 2008 but apart from that his Aintree cupboard has been fairly bare.
One trainer who may have slipped under the Aintree radar has been Philip Hobbs – he hasn’t featured on the roll of leading trainers in the past four seasons but took the title in 2006 after scoring back-to-back successes in 2000 and 2001, he remains one to watch for an Aintree resurgence.
Three to four winners are generally enough to take the Aintree trainer’s title and it will be a surprise if one of the above is not featuring at the top of the pile.