If you believe the markets, with a month to go, the British Trainers’ Championship is done and dusted whilst there’s all to play for in Ireland. Interestingly, there’s not much that separates the contestants in both tables – Nicky Henderson is £644,000 ahead of Paul Nicholls in Britain and Gordon Elliott is €491,000 in front of Willie Mullins in Ireland. However, the best I could find on the Exchanges was 1.06 for Henderson to retain his title, while across the sea there looks to be a genuine two horse race, with Betfair Sportsbook offering Mullins at 4/5 and Elliott at 10/11.
One reason the bookies might be finding it hard to put a rizla paper between the Irish contestants is, as history has taught us, Punchestown can change everything. Last year Elliott went into the Festival more than €400,000 ahead, only to finish €200,000 behind Mullins and be denied a first Trainers’ Championship. Elliott described the outcome as ‘Heatbreaking’.
He may have been the top Trainer at Cheltenham this year, but Elliott has made it clear where his priorities lie ‘If you ask me do I want to be leading trainer in Cheltenham or leading trainer in Ireland, there is only one place that matters’.
I sense an increased determination this year to wrestle the title from Mullins’ grip. I heard it said at a Cheltenham Preview Night that Elliott had left some horses in Ireland to focus on the valuable end of season handicaps. Whilst I don’t know the evidence for this, you can always do worse that back blind an Elliott horse with Davy Russell on board in a handicap.
Elliott also enjoys the patronage of the mighty Gigginstown Stud and with their retained jockies, Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy, firing on all cylinders, this season may well have a different outcome. To strengthen the argument, even if Mullins’ top rider, Ruby Walsh, does recover from his injury plagued season in time for the Punchestown Festival, there has to be a question over his fitness and psychological readiness.
There doesn’t currently appear to be a great deal of liquidity in the market for the Irish Championship and the odds might not seem attractive, on which ever camp you favour. However, if you are tempted and want to squeeze some value, you should be able to lay Mullins at evens. And that might be where the smart money should go.