Dan Skelton

Dan Skelton is, of course, the eldest son of Olympic show jumper Nick Skelton but, since embarking on a training career in 2013, has quickly established himself as a leading exponent of the art, or science, of preparing National Hunt horses. Testament to his progress through the training ranks in a short space of time is that, at the time of writing, he has just broken the record, previously held by Martin Pipe, for the fastest hundred winners in a National Hunt season.


His hundredth winner of 2018/19 was Sam Red, ridden by William Marshall, in an amateur riders’ handicap chase at Cheltenham on October 26, over a week ahead of the previous best set by the 15-time Champion Trainer on November 3, 2001. Indeed, at the time of writing, Skelton has saddled 104 winners, more than double the number sent out by his nearest pursuer, Peter Bowen, and his total prize money, which is approaching £850,000, gives him a lead of nearly £400,000 in the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship.


Dan Skelton spent nine years as assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset before starting out on his own at Lodge Hill Stables, a training centre purpose-built by his father, Nick, at Alcester in the heart of rural Warwickshire. Skelton Jnr. began his training career with just a dozen horses, but saddled 27 winners in his first season – notably including Willow’s Saviour in The Ladbroke at Ascot – and hasn’t really looked back.


In 2015/16, he saddled over a hundred winners in a season, and earned over £1 million in total prize money, for the first time and in 2017/18 enjoyed his most successful season so far, with 156 winners and £1.74 million in total prize money. As far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, Skelton has the distinction of winning the County Handicap Hurdle – arguably the most competitive race in the National Hunt calendar – twice, with Superb Story in 2016 and Mohaayed in 2018. All that’s missing from his impressive CV is a Grade 1 winner but, granted his meteoric rise to the top of his profession, that surely is just a matter of time.

Sir Michael Stoute

Were it not for the late Julian Wilson, Barbadian Sir Michael Stoute – he was awarded a knighthood for services to tourism and sport in his native country in 1998 – may well have become BBC television racing correspondent rather than multiple champion trainer. In November, 1965, the 19-year-old Stoute made a shortlist of six candidates who travelled to Newbury racecourse for final screen tests, but the powers that be preferred the patricianly, slightly raffish, style of Wilson, leaving the young man to find fame elsewhere in the racing world.


Stoute subsequently served as assistant trainer to Hubert Patrick ‘Pat’ Rohan in Malton, Yorkshire for three years. In 1968, he moved to Newmarket and, having abandoned his original intention of returning to the Caribbean, also served as assistant trainer to Douglas Smith and Harry Thomson ‘Tom’ Jones before renting a yard and setting up on his own, with just 15 horses, in 1972. He saddled his first winner, Sandal, owned by his father, at Newmarket in April that year and so embarked upon a brilliant career that has, so far, spanned five decades.


Stoute, now 73, can rightly be considered one of the all-time greats of British Flat racing. He has been Champion Trainer ten times and won a total of 14 British Classic races, including the 2,000 Guineas five times, the 1,000 Guineas twice, the Derby five times, the Oaks twice and the St. Leger once. In June, 2018, Stoute also became the all-time leading trainer at Royal Ascot; the victory of Poet’s Word over hot favourite Cracksman in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes took his career total to 76, beating the previous record of 75 set by the late Sir Henry Cecil. Stoute has also recorded numerous high-profile victories around the world, including the Breeders’ Cup Turf five times, the Japan Cup twice, the Dubai World Cup and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.


Nowadays based at Freemason Stables and Beech Hurst Stables, on either side of the Bury Road in Newmarket, Stoute will always be remembered as the trainer of Shergar. Stoute describes Shergar – a runaway, 10-length winner of the Derby in 1981, but subsequently kidnapped, probably by the IRA, and never found – as “the most talented middle-distance horse I have ever trained.” However, his most satisfying training performance, he says, was saddling Pilsudski and Singspiel to finish first and second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Woodbine Racetrack in 1996.

Aidan O’Brien

Aidan Patrick O’Brien became the youngest trainer in Ireland when, at the tender age of 26, he accepted the job of succeeding the erstwhile Master of Ballydoyle, Vincent O’Brien, in 1996. However, as private trainer to Irish business magnate John Magnier and his Coolmore Stud associates, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith – to whom, collectively, O’Brien affectionately refers as ‘the lads’ – he has enjoyed phenomenal success.


O’Brien quickly established himself as one of the leading trainers, not just in Ireland, but in the world. He became Irish Champion Flat trainer, in terms of prize money won, for the first time in 1999, with 102 winners and €2.02 million in total prize money and has retained the title in every season since. In 2017, he enjoyed his most successful season so far, in pecuniary terms, with €6.61 million in total prize money and broke the world record, previously held by the late Bobby Frankel, for Group 1 or Grade 1 winners in a single season, with 28. True to form, in 2018 he did better still, in monetary terms, with €6.81 million in total prize money and smashed another record, this time for the number of winners trained in an Irish Flat season, which previously stood at 139.


All in all, O’Brien has saddled over 300 Group 1 winners, obviously far too many to mention individually, but he has also been British Champion Flat trainer on six occasions, in 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2016 and 2017, and has an enviable record in British Classic races. His total haul of 32 victories is made of nine in the 2,000 Guineas, four in the 1,000 Guineas, six in the Derby, seven in the Oaks and six in the St. Leger. At the time of writing, he is also the third most successful trainer in the history of the Breeders’ Cup with 12 winners to his name, while other worldwide victories include the Cox Plate, Canadian International, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Hong Kong Vase and Arlington Million, to name but a few.

Mark Johnston

Mark Johnston is a Scottish horse trainer based in North Yorkshire. Unlike some well known trainers he had no prior career as jockey and instead made moves to become a horse trainer following completing his Vetinary degree in Glasgow. It has been his plan since the age of 14. Johnston’s Father owned horses, and this is often cited as his initial point of interest in both horses and racing.

He begin training at an unassuming Lincolshire stable in 1987, before moving to Kingsley House, Middleham the following year, a location with many more modern facilities. His first winner was Hinari Video over 5 furlongs at Carlisle. He went on to run 126 races, winning 11, bringing home to the trainer what was possible in the sport. Bouyed by the fact that the winning races was not beyond him, Johnston went from strength to strength.

A noteable winner he trained in these early years was Mister Baileys, winner of the 2,000 Guineas in 1994. This was the year that a trickle became a flood, with 100+ wins in every year since, and even over 200 in some. An Ascot Gold Cup win with Double Trigger (who won 13 other races) and in 2004 won the 1,000 Guineas with Attraction came in the following years. Johnston looks fondly upon these times even today with him listing Mister Bailey’s win, and Double Trigger Royal Ascot win as his top career highlights in a recent Sporting Life piece.

As demonstration of his staggering success in the sport, Johnston earned his 4000th win in 2017, a figure most trainers could only dream of (the feat has in fact only been attained by two other horse trainers, Richard Hannon snr with 4,193 wins, and Martin Pipe with 4,183). In August of 2018 he topped Hannon’s total becoming the most success trainer in history with the win on 20-1 shot Poet’s Society ridden by Frankie Dettori at York.