He may be the top trainer in Britain right now, having trained significantly more winners than all of his peers. Still, Donald McCain is set to visit the upcoming Cheltenham Festival with only one runner across the four days, to the surprise of many.
McCain, 51, who trains out of Cholmondeley in Cheshire, has racked up an impressive 129 wins so far this season, with his total earnings exceeding the £1 million mark for only the third time in his career as a trainer. He’s comfortably ahead of Paul Nicholls, the legendary 12-time champion trainer.
McCain has a handful of entries in place for Cheltenham at the time of writing, so many suggested that he will likely have a small team to head into the festival with. However, following comments from the man himself, it now appears as though he's prepared to go with a single runner.
Speaking on the topic, McCain said, “We’ll have one runner at Cheltenham, I think. Presentandcounting in the Plate.
“His owner, John Turner, is a big supporter of Cheltenham. And the horse has had his winter break and is ready to crack on with again.”
The Plate is the Handicap Chase, but it’s another race, the Novice Handicap Chase, which is now defunct, that could have presented further opportunities for McCain’s yard to excel in what is the “Greatest Show on Turf.” The Novice Handicap Chase was last run in 2020, when Imperial Aura ran out the winner, with the Mares’ Chase replacing it last year.
McCain expressed his disappointment at the Novice Handicap Chase being shelved by insisting, “If the Novice Handicap Chase was still there, I could have had about four runners.
“They got rid of that race, which is a shame, because it produced a lot of good horses.” Some of the horses McCain is talking about are L’Antartique, who won the race in 2007. Hunt Ball, the 2012 winner. And A Plus Tard, who was the penultimate victor before the race was pulled for good.
When a trainer, especially of the ilk of McCain, is only set to go with one runner at Cheltenham, it usually creates excitement surrounding the horse's chances. But, Presentandcounting is way out in the betting, with some bookmakers offering odds as high as 40/1 for the eight-year-old to place first.
Right now, it’s Celebre D’Allen that is fancied the most in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase. Trained by Philip Hobbs, it’s been backed in as short as 4/1. Imperial Alcazar, Birchdale and The Glancing Queen are also ones to keep an eye on, in a field that should be significantly shortened come the start of the race.
So, unless Presentandcounting upsets the apple cart, it is likely to be a quiet Cheltenham Festival for McCain, who will undoubtedly have runners and winners elsewhere. After all, there is still plenty of time for this to be his most successful season, leaving the likes of Nicholls and others very much in his wake.