We’ve written elsewhere about the importance of trainers to the success of a horse, as demonstrated by the number of times the same trainer has won a Cheltenham Festival race on numerous different occasions. From the point of view of the public, especially one that doesn’t go to the racing very often, the jockey is the most visible person associated with a horse. Having a brilliant jockey can be the difference between a horse coming first and second.
That is the extent to which they matter, guiding the horse around a course and ensuring that it doesn’t expend all of its energy too early in the race. It’s why the very best jockeys in the jump racing industry are paid the big bucks, with owners and trainers trying to entice them to work with their horses so that they can win as many races as possible. Some jockeys seem to take to certain races over others, as we’ll discover here.
Cheltenham Festival Races Record Jockey Wins
The first thing that stands out when you look at the record jockey in Cheltenham Festival races is just how many are held by Ruby Walsh. He holds the record, either on his own or jointly, in an astonishing 11 out of 28 races (29%). That is not too surprising though when you think he is one of the best jump racing jockeys ever and won the top jockey at the Festival an amazing 11 times between 2004 and 2017.
Walsh not only appear on the list the most he also claims the top two spots with an outstanding 8 wins in the Mares’ Hurdle and 6 in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The Mares’ Hurdle was only even established in 2008, after Walsh had already won two top jockey titles, and he still managed 8 wins from the first 11 races. This was thanks in part to riding the record horse, Quevega, on all 6 of his victories. Ruby is also top jockey in the Stayers’ Hurdle and Ryanair Chase and joint top in the Champion Hurdle, three of the five top races of the week.
The other name that stands out on the list is Barry Geraghty who has five wins in both the Triumph Hurdle and the Champion Chase. He appears on the list 6 times (21%) either as a sole or joint record holder. He only won top jockey twice, largely thanks to the fact that Ruby Walsh won almost all of the others.
Pat Taaffe has to get a mention for his 4 record Gold Cup wins, three of which were on the back of Arkle, a record that has stood since 1698. He also holds the joint record for the Champion Chase with Geraghty with 5 wins, this time on four different horses showing why his quality has stood the test of time.
In terms of the races that have been won the most by the same jockey it is interesting that the top three are all grade 1 hurdles. Walsh also holds the record in 7 hurdle races out of his 11 race records.
Note that the table above only shows races in which a single jockey has won a race two or more times. Races such as the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle have never been won twice by the same jockey.
It is worth giving a shout out to Jamie Codd here who holds the record with 4 wins in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup. For an amateur to win a race four times is seriously good riding, especially when this race traditionally has a big field, high average winner odds and a low number of favourites that win.
For some jockeys, there are specific kinds of races that lend themselves to their particular set of skills. For whatever reason, they’re better suited to steeplechases over hurdles, for example, so they are able to win chases more regularly. Sometimes it’s to do with their relationship with the horses they ride, whilst on other occasions its because of the trainers they work with. Here’s a look at the races that some jockeys can’t help but win.
Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle – Ruby Walsh
Ruby Walsh’s name is one that will come up more than once on this page, such is the influence that the Irishman had over the Cheltenham Festival prior to his retirement. The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, which is officially registered as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, is the race that Walsh won more than any other during his time racing at the Cheltenham Festival, but why was that the case?
Some jockeys are better placed to working with female horses, so Ruby Walsh’s ability to work with any horse he was given and turn it into a winner meant that he always stood a better chance than many of succeeding in this event. Run over two miles, three furlongs and 200 yards, the Mares’ Hurdle features ten jumps, which Walsh was an expert at coping with. That being said, there’s one big reason he did so well in it…
Ruby Walsh was Willie Mullins’ jockey of choice whenever he got to work with him, meaning that his chance of winning any given race already improved when riding a horse trained by the person that has trained more Cheltenham winners than any other. Even so, the relationship between Mullins, Walsh and a horse named Quevega will have helped them both make it into the record books, thanks to her six wins in succession.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Ruby Walsh
Just as not every jockey can work well with female horses, soo too is it tricky to work with novice hurdlers if it’s not something that you’re used to doing. Ruby Walsh began life in the saddle as an amateur, winning the Irish Amateur Title twice. This gave him plenty of opportunity to work with horses that were novices in one race type or another, which continued to happen once he’d turned professional.
This was demonstrated by his first win at the Cheltenham Festival being in the Champion Bumper in 1998, when he managed to ride Alexander Banquet to victory. Run over two miles and 87 yards, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle features eight obstacles, which the jockey must guide their steed over as they look to make their way towards the finishing line. It certainly helps inexperienced horses having a very experience jockey ride them.
The race is the first on the opening day of the Festival, meaning that it is traditionally accompanied by ‘the Cheltenham Roar’. Having a jockey that is talented enough to help the horse cope with the noise and rancour can undoubtedly make a difference, which helps to explain why Walsh’s name was the one most often written in the winner column. That Willie Mullins is the most successful trainer also helped Walsh’s cause.
JCB Triumph Hurdle – Barry Geraghty
First run in 1939, the Triumph Hurdle is a Grade 1 race that is run over two miles and 179 yards. It’s for four-year-old horses with a weight of 11 stone and 0 pounds, though fillies are given a seven pound allowance. That means that the horses taking part in the race are going to lack experience of big race meetings, to say nothing of coping with the eight hurdles that are put in their way during the event.
If you’re unable to have the best jockey ever to grace the Cheltenham turf ride for you then you’re probably best off looking for the second-best. That’s where Barry Geraghty comes in, winning at Prestbury Park for the first time in 2002 thanks to his work with the Jessica Harrington Trained Moscow Flyer. A year later and the pair won the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Geraghty also winning the Grand National.
In other words, he was about as talented a rider as you can find, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he worked so well with young horses. Just as Ruby Walsh’s connection to Willie Mullins helped him win so many Festival races, the fact that Barry Geraghty worked so regularly with Nicky Henderson also helped him. Indeed, three of his five wins in the Triumph Hurdle came on the back of Henderson-trained horses.
Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase – Pat Taafe
The Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase is a race that gives horses the chance to experience steeplechase racing for one of the first times, with the added pressure being that it is done during the Cheltenham Festival. Run over three miles and 80 yards, it presents the horses with 20 fences to jump before they get to the final furlong. Officially registered as the Broadway Novices’ Chase, Pat Taafe enjoyed his first win in it in 1953.
That was on the back of a horse named Coneyburrow, with four more wins to come before Taafe would hang up his riding boots. The Irishman was the Ruby Walsh of his day, winning the likes of the Grand National and the Gold Cup several times during his career. To put another way, he was a jockey that knew how to cope with the most difficult and dangerous fences in the world of jump racing, doing so on a regular basis.
With that in mind, it makes sense that he’d be able to guide inexperienced horses over fences at Prestbury Park, easing them around the course and getting them over the jumps in a timely fashion. He won this race with Arkle, who he would go on to win the Gold Cup with on three occasions. It certainly helps to boost your numbers when you’re riding one of the best horses ever to grace the Cheltenham turf.
Queen Mother Champion Chase – Pat Taafe & Barry Geraghty
The first of our races to feature more than one winning jockey, the Queen Mother Champion Chase is one of the Cheltenham Festival’s feature races. Run over one mile, seven furlongs and 199 yards, it is for horses aged five and over and boasts weight information of 11 stone and ten pounds, though mares receive a seven pound allowance. There are 13 fences to jump during the course of the race, which is instructive.
It suggests that it is a race that requires an experienced jockey to help the horses around the course, so it is perhaps no surprise that the two jockeys that have won the race more than any other are two of the best jockeys of their generation. It also helps when you’re working with a horse that knows what it takes to win, which Pat Taafe enjoyed thank to Fortria and Barry Geraghty enjoyed courtesy of Moscow Flyer.
Both Taafe and Geraghty knew what it took to get a horse around Prestbury Park, so they were always likely to be jockeys that could add their names to the record books for an event or two. The fact that the Queen Mother Champion Chase is the leading steeplechase for minimum-distance runners meant that they got to work with some excellent horses, helping propel them to success.
The Stayers’ Hurdle – Ruby Walsh
Shock horror, there’s that man’s name again: Ruby Walsh. The Stayers’ Hurdle is a race aimed at the very best long-distance runners in the world of jump racing. With this in mind it is perhaps not all that surprising that Ruby Walsh is the event’s most successful jockey. After all, if Walsh and his horse didn’t get off to the very best of starts when the race got underway then there was still plenty of time left for them to recover.
Run over two miles, seven furlongs and 213 yards, the Stayers’ Hurdle presented Walsh with ample opportunity to get back into a race if he got off to a bad start. Given that the race features 12 hurdles, it boasts four more such obstacles than most of the hurdle races run during the Cheltenham Festival, meaning numerous opportunities for lesser riders than Walsh to mess up and present him with his opportunity.
As with other races, it’s difficult to escape the fact that Walsh was the rider that took Big Buck’s to his four successive wins in the event. That made up four of the five victories that the Irishman enjoyed in the race, with some jockeys struggling to enjoy even one win with a horse let alone four in the same event. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Big Buck’s would not have won the races without Walsh being the one riding him.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup – Jamie Codd
Run over three miles and two furlongs, the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup is open to horses aged five and over. A handicap event, what sets it apart is the fact that it is limited to amateur riders. As a result, any that know how to get the best out of a horse that they’re riding are going to be well-placed to get their name onto the top of list of winners, which is exactly what has happened to Jamie Codd.
Codd enjoyed his first victory in the race in 2009, courtesy of Character Building. He began riding in point-to-point events when he was 17, meaning that he had gained a wealth of experience before he even looked to take part in the Cheltenham Festival. After winning on the John Quinn trained horse, Codd was picked up by David Pipe and worked with him to win on both Junior and The Package.
Working with a top-class trainer is always helpful for any jockey, so the fact that he then got to work with Gordon Elliott certainly helped him on the track. Sometimes all a jockey needs to enjoy some success is to work with an excellent trainer, ride some good horses and be better than their competition. That’s exactly the situation that Jamie Codd found himself in, taking full advantage of the good fortune that fell his way.
National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup – Patrick Mullins
When you’re discussing the Cheltenham Festival, it isn’t unusual for the name ‘Mullins’ to come up a fair few times. In this case, though, it isn’t Willie Mullins that we’re referring to but his son Patrick. Of course, if you’re going to get to ride horses for Willie Mullins then there’s a good chance that you’re going to be sat on the back of a winner or two, but that isn’t to take away from what Patrick Mullins has achieve in the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup. After all, this is one of the oldest races in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, so being the most successful jockey in it isn’t easy.
Willie Mullins himself won the race twice back when he was a rider, proving the regular Cheltenham family connections, given that his dad trained the two horses he won on. Though Ted Wilson and Capt. Arthur Smith are actually the most successful jockeys in the race, having won it five times apiece, we tend to only think of the records since 1946. On that front, some riders such as Tony Martin and Tony Fowler match Willie Mullins’ two wins and Jamie Codd was level with Patrick Mullins on three wins before the Irish amateur jockey set the record in his own right in 2023.
The Grade 2 event was run for the first time in 1860, so its storied history is one that is indelibly linked to the Cheltenham Festival. For Patrick Mullins as an amateur jockey to be able to say that he is the most successful jockey of the modern era in such a race is a brilliant claim. The fact that it is aimed at novice chasers means that he’s been winning the race consistently on horses that aren’t even that experienced, perhaps making his achievement even more noteworthy. Add in the fact that it is the second-longest event at the Festival after the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase and you’ve got a genuinely top achievement.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup – Pat Taafe
There are a number of races run during the Cheltenham Festival that have been won by the same jockey on four occasions, so we could have picked any of those to discuss here. That being said, when one of the races on your list is the Cheltenham Gold Cup then you’re going to talk about the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The blue riband event of the entire meeting, the Gold Cup is the race that everyone wants to win.
One way of gaining a victory in one of jump racing’s most prestigious events is by riding a talented horse, which is something that Pat Taafe got to do on three occasions. Whilst Arkle wasn’t quite as impressive a horse as Golden Miller, the latter horse only had the same jockey on his back for two of his five Gold Cup wins. Arkle, on the other hand, was led to victory in the event by Taafe for all three of his wins.
Whilst it’s certainly true that his association with Arkle did Taafe no hard when trying to win the Gold Cup, his 1968 victory on Fort Leney proved that he wasn’t a one-tricky pony. Both horses were trained by Tom Dreaper, with whom Taafe had a strong working relationship. For Cheltenham’s other great jockey, Ruby Walsh, his association with Willie Mullins actually worked against him in the Gold Cup, with Mullins not winning the event until after Walsh had retired.