Top trainer betting is an outright market that exists within horse racing. When it comes to racing, there are nowhere near as many markets as you get in many other sports, for example football or cricket. As well as it lacking a range of markets in general, it is perhaps even more short on outright betting options.
Outright markets are those that apply to competitions as a whole and cover events over a longer period, in contrast to ones that cover a single race, tournament, game or event. In football, for example, backing a player to score in a single game is a “normal” match-based bet, whereas backing them to be the top scorer in the league that season is an outright.
There is a selection of different wagers that fall under the umbrella of “top trainer betting” and we will look at these shortly. However, so that you better understand the concept, let us look at perhaps the most popular top-trainer bet there is.
Top Trainer at the Cheltenham Festival
The Cheltenham Festival is the Olympics of National Hunt racing and the highlight of the racing calendar for many fans of the sport. It offers four fantastic days of racing action but if trying to find the winners in 28 races isn’t enough action then how about a bet on the top trainer? If things go well then one simple wager will keep you interested in almost every single race of the whole event. That makes this wager great value in entertainment terms.
When you make this particular top trainer wager, you are betting on which handler will train the most winners over the course of the entire Festival. There isn’t really much else to add. Each race where the trainer saddles the winner adds one to their tally and at the end of the week the person with the most wins is crowned top trainer. This is a hugely prestigious achievement for any trainer. The lists below show some of the greats of the game to have won the award, as well as how many races are usually needed to take the honours.
Cheltenham Top Trainer Stats
To give you an idea of what is required to land this bet, and the trainers to think about, below you can see all the trainers to have triumphed since 2000, as well as how many races their horses won.
As we can see, in recent years Willie Mullins has been incredibly dominant, whilst more general trends include a power switch to Ireland and an increase in the number of races claimed by the top trainer. Mullins is also by some distance the leading trainer at the Festival overall, as we can see from the list below. This shows the five most successful handlers in the entire history of the Festival.
- Willie Mullins – 94
- Nicky Henderson – 73
- Paul Nicholls – 48
- Fulke Walwyn – 40
- Martin Pipe – 34
Of those trainers still active, Gordon Elliot comes next, with 28 Cheltenham winners as a trainer. In terms of which trainer has won the Cheltenham top trainer award, and therefore betting market, most often, it should be no surprise that it is Mullins who again leads the way.
Mullins has been top dog at the biggest Festival in National Hunt no fewer than 10 times. Nicky Henderson, who will be 73 at the 2024 Festival, has claimed glory on nine occasions. Looking solely at trainers still working, behind those two legends we have Paul Nicholls, Cheltenham champion trainer six times.
Other Top Trainer Markets
You will see a small number of other related betting markets available at different times of the year. Some of these will be similar to the Cheltenham one but, for example, centred around Royal Ascot, or the Grand National meeting. Naturally enough these work in exactly the same way but there are also two other main alternatives when it comes to betting on the top trainer.
These other trainer markets are slightly different and are good options if you want to have a bet that lasts – hopefully at least – the whole season. You can bet on who will win the Flat Trainers Championship and/or the Jump Trainers Championship. Whereas the previous markets we have looked at are based on the number of winners, these markets are settled according to the official championship data as shown by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).
The Flat prize is based on all prize money in Great Britain during the calendar year, whilst the National Hunt award includes races from 1st May through to the following April. In 2023/24 the exact dates were 1st May 2023 to 27th April 2024. Most betting sites offer these markets throughout the year as the action unfolds so you can either wait and see how particular trainers begin, or alternatively get your bets on in advance.
Given Willie Mullins predominantly races his horses in Ireland it is Paul Nicholls who dominates the NH prize. The Ditcheat ace has 14 Champion Trainer titles to his name, though before that Martin Pipe won the prize every year bar two between 1988/89 and 2004/05, landing 15 in total. On the Flat, Alec Taylor Jr. Is top dog, though he won his 12 titles in the first quarter of the 20th century. More recently, knighted duo Sir Henry Cecil and Sir Michael Stoute both have 10 wins each.
Top Trainer Rules
This is a fairly straightforward area of betting and certainly when it comes to the official season-long Champion Trainers awards there are not really any rules of note. In theory two (or more) trainers could finish exactly level but this is exceptionally unlikely and indeed, has never before occurred.
When it comes to backing a trainer to come out on top over a festival, a dead heat is far more likely to occur. At both the 1994 and 1996 Cheltenham Festival three trainers all managed two wins each, this also occurring in 1992 and 1993. Indeed, in 1989, five handlers were tied on a brace of wins.
In recent years racing power has been concentrated in fewer yards and so more winners have been needed to hit top spot. This has reduced he likelihood of ties but, for example, in 2019 Mullins and Henderson saddled four winners apiece. It was the former who got the nod as top trainer, however, thanks to him having had more second-place finishes (had that been tied, third-place finishes would also have been used).
To the best of our knowledge all betting sites will use the official award as their guide and pay out on whoever is named top trainer using the countback of seconds and thirds. However, it is possible some will simply use dead heat rules. Moreover, in the unlikely event of handlers remaining tied even after tiebreakers are applied, dead heat rules may well come into play.
Strategy and Betting Tips
When it comes to all of these markets the main thing to note is that our number one key rule can be sent packing. We usually advise that looking for value is key but in one sense that does not matter here. The odds of each individual race winner, nor the overall strike rate of the trainer you pick, are irrelevant. This is an outright, unweighted market, where only winners matter.
What we mean is that if a trainer has two great horses at odds-on prices for Cheltenham and they land two out of two winners, this is unlikely to be any good. As our stats above show, these awards are invariably won by the biggest operations, those that will have tends of horses running at the Festival. Additionally, a horse that is terrible value to win at 1/6, that wins, carries exactly the same weight as a 33/1 shot that you had pegged as value at 16/1 and romps home.
When it comes to the main season-long trainer championships, things are slightly different. This is because it is not just winners that count, but all prize money. This perhaps weights things even further towards the biggest operations, however, because the title is determined this way, not all wins are created equally. Big wins in the Classics will yield six-figure sums, whilst success in a small midweek meeting will offer only a fraction of that.
If you think there is a smaller handler that has a few really good contenders in lucrative races across the season, they may offer real value for the top trainer award. That said, of course, a quick look at the roll of honour on either the Flat or NH shows that it is the big yards that dominate. As such, finding value is very hard in a market where shocks are almost unheard of.
As such, we suggest this market is probably only best as a way to have a single wager that can keep you interested across the whole season. Over the years there have been some really tense battles that have gone to the wire so if you pick one of the major contenders you should have a decent chance at seeing your bet remain live for much of the year.