When the Cheltenham Festival rolls around, the first thing most punters think about is which horses they’re going to be betting on. Oftentimes the horses put out by certain trainers will enter the conversation, largely thanks to the fact that some trainers have a much better relationship with the meeting at Prestbury Park than others, so if they’ve got some horses entered into the big races then it’s worth paying attention to.
Something that not everyone thinks about is which jockeys will be riding which horses, which is surprising when you consider that they are arguably the most influential people involved in the Cheltenham Festival. Yes, the trainers work hard to get their horses ready for the races, but once they’re out there it’s down to the jockeys to control how well they run.
Here we’ll look at who have won the Champion Jockey award at Cheltenham in the past, current trends and what they get for winning the award.
Champion Jockeys In The Last Ten Years
|2019||Nico de Boinville||Great Britain||3||1||1|
Where else to start but by looking at the Top Jockeys from the Festival over the past ten years, with information including how many times they won a race, how many times they came in second and how many times they finished third. If two or more jockeys are tied on wins the overall champion is the one with the most 2nd and then 3rd place finishes.
Long gone are the days when you could bet on Ruby Walsh to be crowned Champion Jockey and be relatively confident that your bet would come in. Such was Walsh’s ability in the saddle and affinity with the Cheltenham Festival, it was almost pointless considering a wager on anyone else if you knew that he was taking part.
Indeed, it might have been him missing out on the title in 2018 and 2019 that made him consider retirement.
Winners Since 1980: Irish Jockeys Are Now Dominating
|1985||Steve Smith Eccles||3|
|2019||Nico de Boinville||3|
The Cheltenham Festival was cancelled in 2001 because of the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom.
It’s fair to say that betting on an Irish jockey to do well in the Champion Jockey stakes is a pretty safe bet, with Nico de Boinville the only person to break that particular trend in the past ten Festivals. Before that, you need to look as far back as 2007 for an English jockey to take the crown, such has been the dominance of Irish jockeys at this most British of jump racing meetings.
The other interesting thing to note about the Champion Jockey award is how few wins they need to take the crown, relatively speaking. Indeed, a look back as far as 1980 sees some truly low scores racked up by the jockeys that finished at the top of the pile – although bear in mind there were less races prior to 2005 when the fourth day was added.
Apart from how often Ruby Walsh’s name appears in the table, the other thing that stands out is how rarely jockeys have needed to win as many as five, six or seven races in order to be crowned as the best one at the Festival. Indeed, when Jonjo O’Neill won the title in 1982 he did so by winning just a single race. The amount of first and second place finished get taken into account if jockeys are tied for the same number of wins, but otherwise don’t.
There’s an extent to which jockeys on the whole have improved their performances at the Cheltenham Festival, which is why the number of wins racked up in the most recent period have been higher. That being said, for a meeting that has had in excess of 20 races for a number of years, it’s certainly surprising to see how rarely the top riders actually take Prestbury Park by storm on their way to being crowned champion Jockey.
When Gee Armytage won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup in 1987, becoming the first female jockey to do so in the professional era, few could have imagined that it would take so long for a female jockey to be crowned as Champion Jockey. In fact, Armytage nearly won the title herself, having won the same amount of races as Peter Scudamore and only missing out because he had landed more second and third places than her.
Armytage’s success came four years after Caroline Robinson won the Foxhunter Chase, which she did as an amateur on her own horse Ellogarty, putting female jockeys front and centre of the news stories for a brief period of time. All of the female jockeys that came after these trailblazers owe them a lot, but just how much might Rachael Blackmore’s success during the 2021 Cheltenham Festival shift those tectonic plates even more?
Coming out of Killenaule in County Tipperary in the Republic of Ireland, Blackmore was on the back of her first winner in 2011 as an amateur jockey. Born in July 1989, she became a professional jockey in the March of 2015 and rode her first winner six months later. Despite this, it took her until 2019 to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. A month later and she’d notched up her first Grade 1 win in Ireland.
Blackmore came second to Paul Townend in the 2018-2019 season’s Irish Champion Jockey standings, coming third the following year when the season was curtailed because of the Coronavirus outbreak. It was unquestionably in 2021 when she saw her name etched into the record books, however, when she not only made history by becoming the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle but was crowned Champion Jockey at that year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Her wins at the 2021 meeting were as follows:
- Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle on Bob Olinger
- Champion Bumper on Sir Gerhard
- Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle
- Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on Telmesomethinggirl
- Ryanair Chase on Allaho
- Triumph Hurdle on Quilixios
Her relationship with talented trainer Henry de Bromhead has been part of her success, but you don’t get given horses to ride by such excellent trainers unless you’ve proven yourself, which Blackmore very much has. When she returned to action at Thurles the week after her Cheltenham exploits, she was given a guard of honour alongside Gold Cup winner Jack Kennedy by the personnel that were at the track.
What Rachael Blackmore achieved at the Cheltenham Festival in 2021 can’t be measured in money or trophies alone. She well and truly shattered the glass ceiling, with the number of young women and girls who will have been inspired to enter the horse racing industry because of her incalculable. The next female jockey to be named as Champion Jockey at the end of Festival week will doubtless praise Blackmore for leading the way.
Blackmore finished second in the table in 2022 behind Paul Townend, but she won’t have minded that on account of the fact that two of the races she did win were the Champion Hurdle (again) and the Gold Cup – again becoming the first woman to do so. She finished third in 2023 with two wins, although one of which was Envoi Allen in the Ryanair Chase, and now has 14 Festival wins to her name.
What Do Champion Jockeys Win
During his jump racing career, Ruby Walsh won 59 races at the Cheltenham Festival. Little wonder, then, that the Jockey Club decided to name the trophy awarded to the Champion Jockey at the end of Festival week in his honour after his retirement. The next closest jockey to him at the time of writing is Barry Geraghty, who was in the saddle for 43 wins during his time at Prestbury Park.
When Rachael Blackmore was named Champion Jockey in 2021, she was handed a trophy in the shape of one famous jockey in Ruby Walsh by another famous jockey, A.P. McCoy. It is a real honour for jockeys to not only win the title but also to take a trophy in the shape of the best ever rider to take part in the Festival, such is the extent to which he is held in high esteem by all that are in the profession.