Trainer's Championship Battle Ahead

Features | 26th March 2024

British jump racing’s sorcerer and his one-time apprentice will battle it out for the trainers’ championship as the season reaches its thrilling climax.

Paul Nicholls and his former assistant Dan Skelton look set to go head-to-head for the prestigious Trainers’ title up to the final day celebrations at Sandown.

It promises to be a pulsating tussle as Nicholls attempts to add to his 14 champion trainers’ crowns, while Skelton is aiming to win his very first. They also both face the daunting possibility of Irish trainer Willie Mullins throwing his hat into the ring.

Here we look at how the main contenders.

Dan Skelton

Dan Skelton gives Tristan Durrell his instructions

A stellar Cheltenham Festival propelled Skelton into the lead in the title race. His two handicap winners on Wednesday with Langer Dan and Unexpected Party was bettered 24 hours later when Grey Dawning and Protektorat gave him a glorious Grade 1 double.

Three more winners across Kempton and Uttoxeter followed on the Saturday to keep his title assault rolling. 

Skelton, based near Alcester in the Warwickshire countryside, has long-since had the number of winners to compete with the best but now he has the quality to go with it. His stable will have plenty of ammunition to fire at Aintree’s crucial Grand National meeting.

The son of top showjumper Nick Skelton will be making his old boss pull out all the stops in his pursuit of his first trainers’ championship title.

Paul Nicholls

The reigning champ will have an extra incentive to hold on to his trainers’ title crown. If he can see off his former protégé in the final weeks of the season it would be a 15th championship victory.

That would put him level with his old rival Martin Pipe. The pair fought out some fierce title battles around 20 years ago before Nicholls became the dominant force in British jump racing.

That dominance is still reflected in the trainers’ championship roll of honour, but the big-race supremacy of the days of Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s and Master Minded is no longer there with the shift of power towards Ireland.

Nicholls will still have a formidable team for the season’s run-in. Aintree has been a happy hunting ground down the years and he is sure to target Ayr’s Scottish National meeting, as well as Sandown’s valuable final day prizes. The champ will not be relinquishing his crown without a titanic fight.

Willie Mullins

The looming presence of all-conquering Irish trainer Willie Mullins is enough to strike fear into the minds of the title chasers.

He became the first trainer to reach 100 Cheltenham Festival winners this year when adding another nine victories to his tally at jump racing’s greatest meeting.

It still leaves him more than £600,000 behind Skelton. That would rule most trainers out of the title race but Mullins could have as many as eight or nine runners in the Grand National. If one of them was successful it could prompt an assault on some of the other big British end-of-season prizes.

Punchestown will always be his number one priority but he has proven that even his back up squad is good enough to be competitive in Britain.  

Trainer's Championship