Top Cheltenham Trainers – Six Women with Festival Glory in their crosshairs

Features | 27th February 2019

With practically every jumper in Britain and Ireland being aimed at the Cheltenham Festival, it is undoubtedly the most competitive four days of the Jumps season to train a winner. 

 With hundreds of trainers all competing for a slice of the pie, leading your horse into the Winners’ Enclosure at the Prestbury Park venue is a moment that few get to cherish.

We’ve put together a list of six women trainers that head into this year’s Festival with a good chance of achieving success in the toughest arena that the sport has to offer.

Emma Lavelle

Key Contender: Paisley Park – Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle

Wiltshire-based Emma is no stranger to Festival success; but will be keen to end the nine-year hiatus since her last Prestbury Park winner, Pause and Clause won the 2010 renewal of the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle. Success that day may have come at a slight surprise – the winner was 14/1 – but her principal contender at this year’s Festival, Paisley Park, comes into the meeting very much on the punting public’s radar.

The seven-year-old staying hurdler shot to prominence when winning the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle in good style at Ascot in December and is now 2/1 for Thursday’s Championship race, the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle.

Having improved with every run so far this season, the progressive stayer appears to hold all the aces and is fancied by many to be one of the best bets of the week.

Jessica Harrington

Key Contender: Supasundae – Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle

Irish handler Jessica Harrington has proved a master of her craft throughout a career that has seen her achieve top level success across both the Jumps and Flat disciplines.

Her greatest National Hunt moment came in 2017 when she landed three Festival winners and took home the most coveted prize of the week when Sizing John won the Gold Cup.

Her stable star sadly won’t be able to make a reappearance in this year’s showpiece owing to injury, but the County Kildare handler has a squad of very capable contenders in his stead.

Two-time Grade 1 winner, Supasundae, himself a winner of the Coral Cup at the 2017 Festival and runner up in the 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle is well-fancied to put up a big performance in the aforementioned championship race on Festival Thursday.

Rebecca Curtis

Key Contender: Lisnagar Oscar – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

38-year-old Rebecca has shown an unswerving ability to punch above her weight as she regularly sends out big race winners from her coastal base in Fforest Farm, Pembrokeshire. The Welsh trainer saddled winners at no less than four consecutive Cheltenham Festivals between 2012 to 2015 and will be aiming for yet more glory in the Cotswolds at this year’s meeting.

The Scottish Grand National-winning trainer’s principal hope of a winner appears to be in the shape of progressive six-year-old Lisnagar Oscar, who was last seen winning the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Trial at Haydock in taking style. The trainer is no stranger to success in his targeted race as her former stable star At Fishers Cross won the race in 2013 under then champion jockey, AP McCoy.

Venetia Williams

Key Contender: Aso – Ryanair Chase

The consistently successful Venetia Williams has maintained a position at racing’s top table across three decades, with her crowning achievement to date coming in the 2009 Grand National when she saddled 100/1 shot Mon Mome to a shock victory.

Success at the Cheltenham Festival while less forthcoming, remains impressive with a career tally of six wins. This year’s squad again look well spread across both the Graded races and Handicaps with chances aplenty.

One entry that Venetia holds in particularly high regard is nine-year-old Aso, who looks set to take his chance in Thursday’s Grade 1 Ryanair Chase. The chaser ran has been seen running with huge credit after over a year on the side-lines this season; landing valuable prizes at both Newbury and Cheltenham at the end of 2018.

He has proven form at the Festival too, having finished a close third to Un De Sceaux in the 2017 renewal of the Ryanair Chase and will be fancied to outrun his current odds of 16/1.

Amy Murphy

Key Contender: Kalashnikov – Racing Post Arkle & JLT Novices’ Chase

Amy’s youthful energy and brave nature has paid off in spades since she made the move to the historical home of Flat racing, Newmarket. Not only has she garnered the respect of those all over but she has quietly put together a string of top class performers across both codes.

Her jewel in the crown is that of Novice Chaser Kalashnikov, who  goes into Cheltenham with a live chance in two Grade 1 races; either the JLT Novices’ Chase or the Racing Post Arkle.

The duo took to the Gloucestershire-based track in 2018 with aspirations of Festival glory. However, a gutsy performance from Summervile Boy in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle meant the duo missed out on Grade 1 success by the smallest of margins.

Amy will be hoping her gentle giant can return to the venue at his very best and give the stable the Grade 1 glory on the biggest stage.

Kayley Woollacott

Key contender: Lalor – Racing Post Arkle

Last but not least, Devon-based trainer Kayley Woollacott bids to land a first career winner at the Festival through her undoubted stable star, Lalor.

Kayley’s pathway to Cheltenham has been fraught with difficulty following the tragic death of her husband Richard in 2018; with Kayley continuing to both train horses and create positive memories in his honour.

Already a Grade 1 winner having landed the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree under Kayley’s stewardship last season, Lalor opened his account for this term in scintillating style when winning the Grade 2 Arkle trial at Cheltenham in November.

His neat jumping, high cruising speed and strong stamina up the Cheltenham hill marked him out as a serious contender for the premier Novice Chase on the Festival’s opening day. He’s currently a 3/1 favourite to take the coveted prize back to Devon.