Cheltenham is now so close that it feels as if you can almost taste it. As a result, we’ve decided to take a closer look at the three main things you’ll want to know about for the Festival: horses, trainers and jockeys. You can read about the first two elsewhere on this site, with this page being dedicated to the people on the back of the horses.
Jockeys can often develop an affinity with certain races and even particular horses, which is something that we’ll look at during our consideration. As with the other pages, we’re not looking at the jockeys in any particular order but are instead just looking at the ones that are likely to make the biggest impact over the course of the Festival.
Top 10 Jockeys For The Cheltenham Festival
Female jockeys have been making good progress in recent years, though the retirements of Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh has meant that there are fewer big names likely to set the Festival alight this time around. That’s to say nothing of Ruby Walsh’s retirement last year.
Whilst the owners and the trainers make the most money, the jockeys are the most recognisable people in horse racing and the people that can have the biggest influence on the outcome of the race.
With that in mind, then, here’s a look at the ones that are likely to be in the headlines most often during the Cheltenham Festival this year, in no particular order:
You’d be a fool to ignore the second-most successful jockey ever to ply his tried during the Cheltenham Festival. He managed his first winner in 1997 and by the turn of the millennium was declared to be the Irish Champion jump jockey for the first time. His win on Moscow Flyer for Jessica Harrington in the 2002 Arkle Chase was his first at Prestbury Park.
He won on Moscow Flyer again in 2003 in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, also winning four other races during that year’s Festival. His win in the Grand National that year also saw him declared the Irish Sport’s Personality Of The Year. It kick-started his love affair with the Festival, winning the Champion Chase and the Gold Cup during the 2005 Festival.
As well as being the Festival’s second-most successful jockey, Barry Geraghty is also the current rider with the best record in the Champion Hurdle. He racked up wins on Punjabi in 2009, Jezki in 2014 and Buveur D’Air in 2018. It’ll be worth seeing which horse he chooses to ride this time out, with Nicky Henderson being a trainer he’s got a good relationship with.
- Born: 16th September 1979
- From: County Meath, Ireland
- Cheltenham Winners To Date: 38
Some of the big name female jockeys have hung up their spurs in recent times, but Rachael Blackmore is still taking the fight to the men. The fight for the top jockey spot has become an open field since Ruby Walsh’s retirement, with more than a few people thinking that Blackmore could be the one to put her name in the record books.
She won the Grade One Albert Bartlett with Minella Indo last year, becoming the second female jockey to do so in that meeting and helping female jockeys to equal the total number of wins that they managed the previous year. It looks like she’s going to be riding Notebook in the Arkle Trophy and the much-fancied Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle.
On top of that she’ll also be returning to her partnership with Minella Indo in the RSA Chase and A Plus Tard, who she won with impressively in the Chase Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase last year, will be her ride in the Ryanair. Add to that the fact that she’ll be on Aspire Tower in Friday’s Triumph Hurdle and you can see why there’s much positivity around her this year.
BetVictor in fact have an introductory offer this year that gives additional free bets for each race Blackmore wins, you can read more about that on our free bets page.
- Born: 11th July 1989
- From: Co Tipperary, Ireland
- Cheltenham Winners: 2
Ruby Walsh’s retirement from racing was a loss for the sport but a gain for Paul Townend, seeing as though it allowed him to take over from Walsh as the top jockey associated with Willie Mullins. He’s worked for the Cheltenham Festival’s most successful trainer since he became an apprentice flat racing jockey and has twice been named as the Irish jump racing Champion.
One of those wins came about in the 2018-2019 season, so he’s in fine form heading into this year’s meeting. In fact, many bookmakers have him down as the most likely jockey to win the Champion Jockey award at Prestbury Park in March. He’ll almost certainly be riding Al Boum Photo again in the Gold Cup, having won the race with the horse in 2019.
He lost to Kemboy on Al Boum Photo at Punchestown, but Ruby Walsh was the opposition rider that time and won’t be around to cause trouble this time out. Previous wins during the Cheltenham Festival include in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Arkle Challenge Trophy, so he doesn’t lack experience.
- Born: 15th September 1990
- From: County Cork, Ireland
- Cheltenham Winners: 5
Nico de Boinville
Few jockeys have a name that lends itself to working with horses quite like Nico De Boinville, but his name isn’t the only reason he’s well-fancied for this year’s Festival. He’s younger than many of the other major competitors, yet his youth believes a fabulous jockey. That was demonstrated in 2015 when he won the Gold Cup on the back of Coneygreen after just one year in the job.
That was merely the start of de Boinville’s love affair with the Cheltenham Festival, not least of all because of his working relationship with Altior. The Nicky Henderson trained thoroughbred has led de Boinville to wins in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and two wins back-to-back in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
As Nicky Henderson’s retained rider, it’s fair to say that he’ll get a few good mounts this year. It looks like he’ll be on Shishkin in the Supreme and Pentland Hills, who his won on before more than once, in the Triumph. He’ll also be returning to the Champion Chase with Altior in the hope of making it three out of three. He’ll also be riding Santini in the Gold Cup.
- Born: 14th August 1989
- From: North Hampshire
- Cheltenham Winners: 8
Davy Russell is more closely associated with the Aintree Grand National thanks to his consecutive wins on Tiger Roll in 2018 and 2019. That’s not to say that he hasn’t enjoyed more than his fair share of wins at Prestbury Park, however. His first came in 2006 when he took Native Jack to victory in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
He gradually made his way through the Cheltenham Festival roster, ticking off races like the Coral Cup, the Grand Annual Chase and the the RSA Chase before landing the biggest one of them all in 2014. Lord Windermere was his charge as he found himself on the winners’ podium after that year’s Gold Cup, which was his only win in the race to date.
He’s going to be on the back of Presenting Percy in the Gold Cup, but before that he’ll be taking on the Ballymore with Envoi Allen. Battleoverdoyen is likely to go in for the RSA Chase, whilst Turnpike Trip is likely to run well in the County Hurdle. Since he was released from his position at Gigginstown he’s ridden for numerous trainers, including Paloma Blue for Henry De Bromhead.
- Born: 27th June 1979
- From: Country Cork, Ireland
- Cheltenham Winners: 22
The son of the successful trainer Sue Johnson, Richard Johnson won the Champion Conditional Jockey title when it was just eighteen. His first win at Cheltenham came five years later when he took Anzum across the finishing line first in the Stayers’ Hurdle. He followed it up with a Gold Cup win on the back of Looks Like Trouble the following year.
He followed the Gold Cup win with a victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase thanks to Flagship Uberalles. He named Top Jockey that year, but it wasn’t as impressive as some other people who won the same title in other years given he only won two races at the 2002 Festival. He then went on to win the Gold Cup once again with Tiger Roll in 2018.
His very participation in the meeting this year is in question after he broke his arm in January, but when interviewed about it he said he felt positive that he would make the Festival. If he does make it then he’ll almost certainly be taking on the Albert Bartlett with Thyme Hill, though he won’t be on his usual ride of Native River after it was ruled out of the Gold Cup.
- Born: 21st July 1977
- From: Hereford
- Cheltenham Winners: 17
Robbie Power made a name for himself in the National Hunt world in 2007 when he rode Silver Birch to victory in that year’s Grand National, despite the horse being a 33/1 outside. It was only the second time he’d appeared in the world’s most famous steeplechase, suggesting that he is a jockey of innate natural talent.
That idea was backed up by the wins that he had in the years that followed, including his first Cheltenham Festival win in the RSA Chase in 2011. He managed a Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup in 2017 thanks to Sizing John, as well as the Irish Grand National on Our Duke. In terms of experience, then, he’s got more than enough to warrant a watch.
The son of the Irish show jumper Captain Con Power, it looks like he’ll have a few horses to take towards the finishing line in this year’s meeting. He looks likely to have Fiddlerontheroof in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as well as Harry Senior in the Albert Bartlett. Supasundae will be well-fancied in the Champion Hurdle, whilst Lostintranslation will challenge if he makes the Gold Cup.
- Born: 27th May 1982
- From: County Meath, Ireland
- Cheltenham Winners: 3
When Richard Johnson broke his arm at Exeter, the odds on Brian Hughes finishing the jump season as Champion Jockey took a tumble; it seemed as though it was a two horse race before that. In spite of that, he’s not generally well-known outside of the world of racing enthusiasts, even though it’s been over a decade since he was crowned the Champion Conditional Jockey.
Born in South Armagh, Hughes had to lie about his weight to get his first start in jump racing but has never looked back. Weight has caused Hughes problems over the years, including in February of this year when he was given a ban when he weighed in light at Carlisle. That suspension was then postponed in order for an investigation to be carried out into what actually happened.
Regardless, it will almost certainly have run its course by the time the Cheltenham Festival rolls around, so he’ll be hoping that he can ride a couple of winners and keep his lead at the top of the jockeys list. It’s not yet clear which races he’ll be riding in when the Festival is actually upon us, but sufficed to say that he’ll be one to keep an eye on.
- From: South Armagh, Northern Ireland
- Cheltenham Winners: 3
The son of former show jumper and Olympic Gold medalists Nick Skelton, Harry and his brother Dan took over where their dad left off when they entered the world of racing. Dan became a trainer and Harry the man who rides most of his horses, with Dan having learned his trade under Paul Nicholls and took advantage of Nicholls’ generosity when he sent horses his way.
As for Harry, he’s still relatively young in the world of jump racing despite having been doing it for around a decade now. He is a lover of the Cheltenham Festival, believing it to be the ‘Olympics of our sport’. He was one of the riders that ran Richard Johnson the closest in last season’s Champion Jockey stakes, though being an Aston Villa supporter he’s likely got used to missing out.
His preparation for this year’s Festival was one of mixed emotions when his ride on Protektorat in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle ended up in the horse being disqualified for interference. He then got back on track with a win on Oldgrangewood after a three-way photo finish. Allmankind will be his steed for the Triumph Hurdle, whilst Ch’tibello is likely to try to defend his County Hurdle title.
- Born: 19th September 1986
- From: Warwickshire
- Cheltenham Winners: 15
It’s difficult to write any piece about the Cheltenham Festival and not include some chat about a member of the Mullins family. Usually its Willie Mullins, given his prolific experience as a winning training. His days as a jockey are long gone, however, so it’s his son Patrick that makes our list.
He’s still an amateur jockey, despite overtaking Ted Walsh as the most successful amateur ever.
Mullns began racing in December of 2005, winning his first race in June of the following year. He’s been named Irish Champion Amateur ten times to date, not least thanks to his four winners at various Cheltenham Festivals. He’s helped, of course, by the fact that he’s the amateur of choice for his father, so he’s had some plum rides over the years.
It’s not purely nepotism that has seem him notch up a decent CV, however, with Mullins being a brilliant jockey in his own right. He won the National Hunt Challenge Cup on the back of Rathvinden at the 2018 Festival and is primed to run the same race with Ballyward this time around. Don’t be surprised if he gets a ride in the Champion Bumper, too.
- Born: December 5th 1989
- From: Carlow, Ireland
- Cheltenham Winners: 5