We’ve just about caught our breath after another fantastic Grand National, in which, for the second year in a row, the favourite won.

Technically, I Am Maximus went off as joint favourite on odds of 7/1 alongside Limerick Lace, both of whom are owned by JP McManus.

Ridden by Paul Townend and giving him his first win on his 13th attempt, I Am Maximus is trained by Willie Mullins, and that victory did something very interesting to the British racing statistics.

For the last 20 years, the Trainers Championship has been absolutely dominated by two men – Paul Nicholls, who has won it 14 times, and Nicky Henderson, who has won it six times.

This year, with Henderson’s horses coming up short at Cheltenham, it looked like Dan Skelton might finally break the monopoly and do the unimaginable – beat his former boss to the title.

Who nobody saw coming was Willie Mullins, after all, he’s an Irish trainer and technically shouldn’t even be in with a shot of winning the coveted championship.

But with a whopping nine winners at Cheltenham, followed by the Grand National win, he is currently the man to beat.

It is one of today’s best bets for horse racing because he leads Dan Skelton by £40,000 on £2,874,000 in seasonal earnings, and it just might come down to the last jumps meeting of the season to determine who claims victory.

Last Jumps Meeting

So, just what and when is the last jumps meeting, and how important is it in the context of this season’s horse racing?

Firstly, the official last meeting is at Sandown on April 27th 2024. The biggest race, and the one that could crown this year’s champion trainer, is the Gold Cup Handicap Chase.

Run over a distance of 3m4½f and with 24 fences to be jumped, the winner takes home £95,000.

To put that into perspective, Paul Nicholls needs just over £118,000 to catch Mullins, with Skelton, as mentioned above, needing over £40,000.

A win for either of them, along with one or two of the less lucrative races, and it quickly becomes a three-horse race.

So, who are the runners, and more importantly, do any of the three trainers have the horse that can get them over the line in the Sandown Gold Cup?

Sandown Gold Cup Runners

Here’s the thing about this race. While everybody is focused on the Grand National, they forget how huge the Gold Cup at Sandown is.

This year saw a staggering 79 entries, only 15 less than the National, and with a maximum of 20 runners, getting a spot at the starting tape is as much a battle as winning it.

In his usual style of almost flooding the entries, Mullins has entered 13 horses. Dominating the field is what he does, but to give him credit, the 13 horses are representing 12 different owners, and they all want, and deserve, a shot at winning.

Paul Nicholls has six entries and not to be outdone by his rivals, Dan Skelton has eight in contention.

That’s all well and good, but given the limited spaces, how many of them will actually make the cut?

With the handicapped weights already allocated, Willie Mullins has seven guaranteed spots:

  • Stattler
  • Mr Incredible
  • Minella Cocooner
  • James Du Berlais
  • Adamantly Chosen
  • Nick Rockett
  • Glengouly

In contrast, Paul Nicholls only has two in the top 20 – Threeunderthrufive and Stay Away Fay. Likewise for Skelton who can saddle Galia Des Liteaux and Les Milos.

Of the eleven horses mentioned above, seven have just run in the Grand National, with only Adamantly Chosen (21st) and Galia Des Liteaux (8th) actually managing to finish the race.

And of all of the potential runners, only one, Threeunderthrufive, has been specifically aimed at the Gold Cup in Sandown.

This is reflected in the odds which currently has Les Milos as the second favourite, behind last year’s winner Kitty’s Light, and Threeunderthrufive as the third favourite.

Mullins doesn’t have a single horse in the top ten of the betting markets. Of course, this could all change as horses are withdrawn closer to the race and the final line-up could look very different depending on who gets in.

For now, though, in a race that could decide the championship, Dan Skelton is the man to beat, or at least Les Milos is the horse to beat.

Other Deciding Factors

One thing I will say, however, is that while the Gold Cup at Sandown is as prestigious as it sounds and worth a huge amount of connections, it is not the only race on the card.

There are six other races to be won and all of that prize money, no matter how big or small, adds up. A win in the Celebration Steeple Chase generates the same money as the Gold Cup, so there is definitely more than one deciding factor when it comes to this year’s Trainer Championship.

Add in the Scottish Grand National on Saturday 20th, as well as fixtures at Wincanton, Kempton, Uttoxeter and many more between now and the 27th and it really is anyone’s game.