Following a remarkable series of wins at the Cheltenham Festival, Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins has propelled himself up the Trainer Championship table and now sits in second place, hot on the heels of Paul Nicholls.
With only £141K separating the two at the top, it’s all to play for when it comes to the Grand National 2016 and both trainers are in it to win it.
At the latest scratching stage for the Grand National, 17 horses were withdrawn, seven of whom were initially in the top 40. Mullins withdrew Don Poli and Valseur Lido with Nicholls taking Sam Winner out of the equation.
This however, has not dented their contingent at all with Willie Mullins reportedly planning on sending five runners to the Aintree showpiece including On His Own, Sir Des Champs, Turban, Ballycasey and Boston Bob who looks likely to be ridden by Ruby Walsh.
Current Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, still has six potential runners in contention, with four likely to make the starting line-up. They include Silviniaco Conti who will be paired with jockey Noel Fehily, Nick Scholfield will ride out on Unioniste, with Sam Twiston-Davies on Wonderful Charm and Sean Bowen on Just A Par.
And while it would seem quite staggering that just two trainers could potentially field nearly 25% of the starting 40, we all know that not everything goes to plan in the Grand National.
While he may have had more favourites than you can swing a cat at in the Cheltenham Festival, Mullins doesn’t have the same fortune going into the National, in fact his shortest priced runners are Boston Bob and On His Own at a general 33/1.
Conversely, Paul Nicholls has the second favourite in Silviniaco Conti with odds generally around 10/1, just marginally behind the favourite, and last year’s winner, Many Clouds.
Statistically Many Clouds is going to have his work cut out for him. Only five favourites have won the Grand National in the last 25 outings and none of them have carried top weight.
It’s well documented that the last horse to win back-to-back Grand Nationals was Red Rum in 1973 and 1974 and while it’s not impossible, and certainly Many Clouds has the credentials to equal that fete, he will have Leighton Aspell on board and no jockey, in the history of the race, has ever won it three times in a row.
The Grand National 2016 is undoubtedly going to be one of the most highly competitive of any in recent years. The quality of entries is unrivalled and many horses that would usually secure a spot, will not make the cut.
In 2013, Viking Blond from Nigel Twiston-Davies was rated 131 and bagged the 40th spot for the race. He had originally started at number 76 from 84 entries.
In 2014, Swing Bill from David Pipe was the last to make the cut on an official rating of 138 having started at spot number 79 from 115 entries.
In 2015 it was Royale Knight on a rating of 139. He has started at number 68 from 98 entries.
As it currently stands, the lowest rated horse in the top 40 for the Grand National 2016 has an official rating of 147 and only 13 spaces at the top have become available over the course of two scratching periods.
From 115 entries 96 are still standing their ground for what is shaping up to be one of the most thrilling and highly anticipated Grand Nationals in a very long time.
Will the winner decide the fate of the Trainer Championship? I’m guessing that Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls will be holding their breath to find out.