By Fiona O’Brien
The National Hunt trainers’ championship is set for a thrilling close at Sandown this Saturday after Paul Nicholls clinched back the lead from Willie Mullins in the penultimate weekend of racing.
The Ditcheat trainer was just behind Carlow-based Mullins on prize money going into last weekend, but he wrestled back the advantage with eight winners and he now lays top of the table; £43,000 ahead of his nearest opponent.
It means that all eyes will be on the jumps season’s closing meeting at Sandown to see who will come up top, with £485,000 prize money up for grabs.
“There’s massive prize-money at Sandown. It’s big, and no matter what we do during the week those big races at the weekend are going to make the difference,” said Nicholls after winning four races at Ayr on Sunday.
No overseas-based trainer has won the British Champion Jump Trainers’ Championship since Corkman Vincent O’Brien, whose stables were in Ballydoyle, Tipperary, in 1952/53 and 1953/54.
The Gold Cup Chase could prove to be the decider, and the Irish former jockey has four entries in the race, while the 54- year-old Englishman has eight, including last year’s winner Just A Par.
This week sees the three-day festival at Perth, where Mullins is heavily represented to clinch some of the all-important £220,000 prize money. Nicholls will not be at the festival, but instead will have runners closer to his Somerset base.
“We’ve got plenty to run at the West Country meetings this week but we’re not going to Perth.
“We didn’t have the right horses suitable for the races. It’s a long way to go without the right horses, so we’ve decided to stay down south and aim for Sandown on Saturday.
“There was no point going all that way to Perth if we weren’t going to have winners.”