Michael Appleby

Barnsley-born Michael ‘Mick’ Appleby has been involved has been involved in horse racing, in various capacities, for nearly three decades. In his days as a jockey, he was attached to John Manners’ yard in Highworth, Wiltshire and, on his retirement from the saddle, joined Lambourn trainer Roger Curtis as head lad. Appleby subsequently moved to Compton Verney, Warwickshire and, in 1995, took out a public training licence for the first time.


However, his initial stint as a trainer was short-lived, due to financial constraints, and he subsequently became head lad to Andrew Balding at Kingsclere, Hampshire. Nevertheless, Appleby returned to training, in his own right, when appointed by breeder Colin Rogers to become his yard at Braydon Fields Farm, near Royal Wootton Bassett, in 2010. His first runner, Cotswold Village, won at 66/1 and his second, Seneschal, won at 50/1 so, although he saddled just three winners that season, he registered a level stakes profit of 106 points. Appleby improved his seasonal total to 15 winners in 2011, but a disagreement with Rogers led him to head north, to Danethorpe Stables, near Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire and, more recently, to The Homestead, near Oakham, Rutland.


Appleby had saddled 40 winners or more every season since 2012 and, although yet to train a hundred winners in a season, had his most successful campaign ever in 2018, with 94 winners and over £930,000 in win and place prize money. Career highlights include winning the November Handicap at Doncaster in 2012, with Art Scholar, and the Scottish Sprint Cup at Musselburgh and the Chipchase Stakes at Newcastle in 2014, with Demora and Danzeno – his first Pattern race winner – respectively.


Perhaps understandably, in recent years, he has become a specialist at his local track, Southwell and, in 2018/19, was crowned All-Weather Champion Trainer for the third time in four years. Appleby won his first title in 2015/16, having finished second behind his namesake, Charlie Appleby, and Mark Johnson in the previous two seasons. Although only runner-up behind Johnson, again, in 2016/17, his performance was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he relocated his yard in early December.

Mark Johnston

Glasgow-born Mark Johnston is a qualified veterinary surgeon and practised in that sphere for three years before purchasing his first training yard, Bank End Stables, near Louth, Lincolnshire in 1986. He took a public training licence in 1987 and saddled his first winner, Hinari Video, at Carlisle in July that year. The following year, Johnston bought his current yard, Kingsley Park, in Middleham, North Yorkshire, which he has subsequently developed into a major, state-of-the-art training complex, covering 300 acres and featuring some of the finest facilities in the country.


Johnson first saddled a hundred winners in a season in 1994 – the same year he won his first British Classic, the Two Thousand Guineas, with Mister Baileys – and went on to repeat that feat for 25 consecutive seasons. Indeed, in 2009, he became the first Flat trainer to saddle two hundred winners in a season and, once again, has gone on to repeat that feat in every season since, bar 2011 and 2016, in which he saddled 179 and 195 winners, respectively.Aside from Mister Baileys, Johnston also saddled another Classic winner, Attraction, in the One Thousand Guineas in 2004; three weeks later, Attraction also won the Irish One Thousand Guineas at the Curragh, making her the first filly in history to win both races.


On August 23, 2018, the victory of Poet’s Society in the Clipper Logistics Handicap at York brought up winner number 4,194, making Mark Johnston the most successful trainer, numerically, in the history of British horse racing. His career total beat the previous record set by Richard Hannon Snr., who was succeeded by his son, Richard Hannon Jnr., in 2003.


For all his success, Johnston has some contrary views on the relationship between horse racing, as a sport, and the betting industry. Despite betting being the raison d’être for horse racing – or, in other words, the reason its existence, in the first place – Johnston has argued that ITV, for example, “should get rid of all coverage of betting” from its terrestrial broadcasts of the sport.

Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls, who has trained at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset since 1991, enjoyed a highly memorable season in 2018/19. On April 18, 2019, Nicholls reached the milestone of 3,000 National Hunt winners in Britain, when Kupatana won a mares’ novices’ chase at Cheltenham and, nine days later, became champion trainer for the eleventh time.


Formerly stable jockey and assistant trainer to David Barons, Nicholls first rose to prominence as a trainer in his own right when winning the leading trainer award at the Cheltenham Festival in 1999, courtesy of a notable treble in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He had to wait until 2005/06 to become champion trainer for the first time but, following the retirement of the all-conquering Martin Pipe, dominated the trainers’ championship in every year, bar one, up to and including 2015/16.


Nicholls subsequently finished runner-up to his arch rival, Nicky Henderson, in 2016/17 and 2017/18, but saddled 135 winners and earned £3.3 million in prize money in 2018/19. At the end of the season, he said that his eleventh trainers’ title was probably his finest achievement, in light of the dearth of Grade One horses at Ditcheat in recent seasons.


Of course, down the years, Nicholls has been lucky enough to train numerous top-class steeplechasers and hurdlers, including Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Kauto Star and Denman, dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Master Mind, four-time Stayers’ Hurdle winner Big Buck’s and Grand National winner Neptune Collonges. Nevertheless, seasonal highlights in 2018/19 included winning the King George VI Chase with Clan Des Obeaux and the Ryanair Chase with Frodon; Nicholls, 57, appears at least as ambitious as ever and now has the record of 15 trainers’ titles, set by Martin Pipe, firmly in his sights.

Aidan O’Brien

Aidan O’Brien, 49, saddled a winner on his very first day as a trainer, when Wandering Thoughts won a handicap at Tralee in June, 1993. Thereafter, he won the Irish National Hunt Trainers’ Championship in five consecutive seasons between 1993/94 and 1997/98 and famously trained Istabraq to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running in 1998, 1999 and 2000.


In 1996, Aidan O’Brien succeeded his namesake, Vincent O’Brien, as private trainer to John Magnier at Ballydoyle, near Cashel, Co. Tipperary and embarked on a career that would take him to the top of his profession, not just in Ireland, but worldwide. He registered his first Group One victory with Desert King, in the National Stakes at the Curragh, in September that year and his first Classic victory with the same horse in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, back at the Curragh, the following May.


O’Brien became Irish Champion Flat trainer for the first time in 1999 and has retained the title ever since. In 2001, he also became British Champion Flat trainer for the first time at the age of 32, making him the youngest ever, and the first Irishman since Vincent O’Brien, in 1971, to do so. All told, Aidan O’Brien has been British Champion Flat trainer six times, in 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2016 and 2017. Having won both the 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2019, O’Brien has saddled a total of 34 British Classic winners; ten in the 2,000 Guineas, seven in the Oaks, six in the Derby and the St. Leger and five in the 1,000 Guineas.


Under the auspices of Magnier and his Coolmore Stud associates, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith – almost invariably referred to as ‘the lads’ – O’Brien has over 300 Group One victories to his name and has broken records year after year. In 2017, he saddled 28 Group One, or Grade One, winners in a single season, beating the previous record held by the late Robert J. Frankel and, in 2018 – the year in which he became Irish Champion Flat trainer for the twentieth consecutive time – saddled 152 winners in Ireland, smashing the previous record, of 139, set by Jim Bolger way back in 1992.

Willie Mullins

William Peter ‘Willie’ Mullins has won the Irish National Hunt Trainers’ Championship thirteen times in total and has been perennial champion since 2007/08. He is also the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival but, until recently, the glaring omission from his CV was the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, having saddled the runner-up in the so-called blue riband of steeplechasing six times, Mullins finally laid his Gold Cup hoodoo to rest when Al Boum Photo, ridden by Paul Townend, stayed on well to beat Anibale Fly by 2½ lengths and carry off the historic trophy for the first time in March, 2019.


Based at Closutton, Co. Carlow, Mullins has been the dominant force in Irish National Hunt racing for over three decades. He saddled his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Tourist Attraction, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1995 and, in the meantime, has accumulated a total of 65 winners, one more than Nicky Henderson. Indeed, Mullins has won the leading trainer award at the Cheltenham Festival six times, in 2011, 2013-216 and 2019 and, in 2015, saddled eight winners across the four days, setting a record equalled by compatriot Gordon Elliott in 2018.


Of the main ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival, Mullins has won the has won the Champion Hurdle four times, with Hurricane Fly (2011, 2013), Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016), the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Nichols Canyon (2017) and Penhill (2018) and the Cheltenham Gold Cup once, with the aforementioned Al Boum Photo (2019). The Queen Mother Champion Chase remains elusive, but Mullins went as close as he ever with Un De Sceaux, who was sent off at 4/6 to win the two-mile chasing championship in 2016, but finished second, beaten 3½ lengths, behind Sprinter Sacre; Mullins finished second again with Min in 2018.


In September, 2016, following a dispute over training fees, the Michael O’Leary-owned Gigginstown House Stud – the leading owner in National Hunt racing in Ireland on seven occasions – removed its entire string, which amounted to 60 or so horses, from Mullins. A significant number of those horses, including subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner Apple’s Jade, were transferred to Mullins’ arch rival Gordon Elliott, with the others dispersed among Henry De Bromhead, Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, Joseph O’Brien and Noel Meade.