Trainers looking to taste first Cheltenham Festival success

A look at trainer’s and their chances of seeking their first winner at the Cheltenham Festival next week. Charlie Longsdon The Oxfordshire based trainer has had at least 54 winners in each of the last three seasons and more impressively has sustained close to a 20% strike rate in three of the last four seasons. On the prize-money front Longsdon is having by far his best season to date and just one more winner will see him surpass his previous best of 69 winners. But the elusive Cheltenham Festival winner is a target yet to be fulfilled, despite in the past going in with strong chances. Grandads Horse came the closest back in 2012 when finishing a very close sixth (beaten under five lengths) in the Martin Pipe. This year Longsdon’s hopes are led by Pendra, current favourite for the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase on Tuesday. Longsdon said about his Cheltenham hope: “Pendra is definitely our most high profile horse of the week and he’s certainly got his chance. He’s potentially well handicapped and it’s nice to have a horse so high in the betting in a race at the Festival.” Elsewhere runners include Our Kaempfer, a lively outsider for the Champion Bumper; while Neptune runner Killala Quay is expected to bounce back from a poor run at Warwick. In the handicaps, Magnifique Etoile is Coral Cup bound while Shantou Magic and Hazy Tom will take their chance in the Martin Pipe. John Ferguson The Bloomfields operation is now in its third year and John Ferguson is another trainer having his best season to date. He is close to doubling his amount of winners from the past two years and with prize-money of over £320,000 compared to his 2013 figure of £166,000, this is a stable that needs respecting considerably at the major jump festivals. Cotton Mill, New Year’s Eve and Sea Lord have led the way to date. Cotton Mill was a Grade 2 winner in 2011 and was in the process of running a big race in the Neptune before running out before the turn for home. Ferguson’s closest Cheltenham call to date came with New Year’s Eve in that year’s bumper, where he found only Champagne Fever too good. This year the trainer takes a strong team for Prestbury Park, led by Triumph hope Broughton, a former handicapper with Mark Johnston. Ferguson said: “Broughton deserves his chance in the Triumph, he’s impressed me. He should run well and the race will suit him.” Cotton Mill returns for his third consecutive Festival, this time the Coral Cup being the aim and off 148 is expected to run well. Other strong candidates include El Namoose, who now goes for the Champion Bumper after his very impressive Musselburgh win and Buthelezi who should appreciate the possible better ground in the Reward4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase. Tim Vaughan It’s somewhat surprising to see that Tim Vaughan is still yet to have a Cheltenham winner, never mind one at the Festival. Despite having Grade 1 winners at Aintree and Punchestown, plus a Scottish National on his resume, his 106 runners at Prestbury have all been beaten. In each of the past four seasons though, Vaughan has reached at least 84 winners in the year, his best of 102 in 2011-12 is very unlikely to be reached this season at least. Again prize-money figures have been strong with over £328,000 won in every season since 2008. Two seconds is the closest the Welsh trainer has come so far to winning at the Festival, Destroyer Deployed filling that position in Cheltenian’s bumper victory while Silk Affair was the only horse in the way of Ski Sunday winning the Fred Winter in 2009. This year it may be a tough ask to expect Vaughan to break his duck, with nothing particularly well fancied in the current markets. Saint Are could be a lively outsider in the Kim Muir, Saved By John has numerous options, while the chances of French import Le Fin Bois in the Fred Winter is hard to weigh up. Nick Williams The Devon based handler has been no stranger to high profile winners, notably with Reve De Sivola whose Grade 1 count is now at five in his career, spanning over five seasons. However none of those have come at the Festival while two other leading National Hunt lights Diamond Harry and For Non Stop have also gained notable success elsewhere. Williams has still got a record of 7-75 at Cheltenham in the past five seasons but the Festival winner is missing; Maljimar being the notable one that got away in 2009, with an inspired AP McCoy on Wichita Lineman grabbing him late on. However, he goes into next week with five runners and all are hard to totally dismiss. Le Rocher is the obvious starting point. Already a Grade 1 winner at Chepstow this season, the gelding impressed when winning on Trials Day and he is as short as 11/2 for the Triumph Hurdle on Friday. Former Cleeve winner Reve De Sivola again goes for the World Hurdle, a race he was fourth in last year, though his chances are lessened by potentially good ground this week. Un Bon P’Tit Gars is entered in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase while both Diamond Harry and Shalimar Fromentro could be Cross Country Chase bound. Martin Keighley Martin Keighley is slowly but surely joining the high ranks of the National Hunt training world. Despite numerically not being as successful as others, his relatively small string have regularly performed to a consistent and high level, as proven with the stable amassing over £200,000 in prize-money in each of the past three seasons. Keighley, whose Condicote base is under 40 mins away from Cheltenham, has had significant success at meetings away from the Festival. Stable stalwart Champion Court is a three-time winner at the track, all at Grade 2 level while Creepy took a Grade 2 at the Open Meeting in November. Keighley also broke his Grade 1 duck this year as Annacotty thrashed his rivals in the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day and the six-year-old has a lively chance in the RSA Chase next week. Champion Court and Creepy both return and will be going down the handicap route while Cross Country regular Any Currency looks to build on his second to Sire Collonges back in December. Harry Fry Formerly assistant to Paul Nicholls, Harry Fry has made a superb start to his still relatively light training career and despite being directly involved in numerous Cheltenham winners with the Ditcheat handler, he’s yet to win one as a sole trainer. It may be somewhat unfair to place him on this list but the fact even before ending his second season that Cheltenham winners are expected, goes to show how well he’s done so far. Fry has beaten his tally of 20 winners from last season, with 28 so far in 2013/14 from just 79 runners at a staggering strike-rate of 35% and with a £50 profit to a £1 stake. That strike-rate goes up to 50% (11-22) with chasers. The trainer has a very strong hand this Festival and it’s simply a matter of when that first one will come, rather than if. Former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby is 2-2 over fences thus far and is on course for the Arkle and impressive Newbury winner Vukovar is strongly fancied for the JLT Novices’ Chase. Highland Retreat is a lively outsider in the Mares’ Hurdle, while in the Triumph Activial would have a leading chance though with the likelihood of good ground, he may skip the race. Don’t forget to sign-up for Community Membership in time for Cheltenham. JP