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Sunday 11 March 2018

Who Will Be Crowned Cheltenham 2018 Top Jockey?

All eyes will be on Cheltenham next week when the greatest show on turf returns for another four days of exhilarating action. All the biggest names in jumps racing will descend on the famous course for the Festival and we can all look forward to some intense battles developing. Ireland look to have the edge on England in the Prestbury Cup stakes, but it will be tight, while a three-way battle is set to develop in the leading trainer stakes between Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson. But the contest to be named top jockey is never quite as open, because Ruby Walsh has been utterly dominant in recent years. Can anyone stop him this time around? Here we run through the leading contenders:

Ruby Walsh

The 38-year-old Irishman has been named top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival for the last five years in a row, cementing his status as the greatest of all-time at this meeting. He landed three winners in 2004 and claimed his first top jockey prize, and won it again in 2006. Robert Thornton edged ahead of him in 2007, but then Walsh’s supreme dominance began. He won four top jockey titles in a row between 2008 and 2011, and set a record with seven winners in 2009. He lost out to Barry Geraghty in 2012, but has since won five on the trot, and in 2016 he equalled his record with another seven winners. During that time he has won everything worth winning, including the Gold Cup, Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle.

Walsh’s participation in this year’s event was in severe jeopardy after he broke a leg when Let’s Dance fell at Punchestown in November. But his recovery has gone well and he returned to action this week, just in time to get a bit of race fitness up ahead of the Festival. He is given the greatest chance of landing the most winners at Cheltenham once again in the spread betting lines seen below: https://www.sportingindex.com/spread-betting/horse-racing/cheltenham.

Much of Walsh’s success has been tied in with that of his boss, Mullins, who has been similarly dominant in the leading trainer stakes at Cheltenham. Mullins parted ways with Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud before last year’s Festival and subsequently lost out on the leading trainer title to Elliott, so if Mullins does not land enough winners this year Walsh will be in trouble. But Mullins has more ante post favourites, joint favourites and second favourites than any other trainer heading into the Festival – including Footpad, Un De Sceaux and Getabird – so he should taste plenty of success and Walsh deserves to be the frontrunner in this market.

Barry Geraghty

Geraghty is the second most successful jockey in the history of this meeting, with 36 wins, and he was the last man to stop Walsh landing the top jockey title. He missed out on the Festival last year with an injury, but he will be back with a vengeance this time around. When Sir Tony McCoy retired in 2015, Geraghty took over as the retained rider for JP McManus, who is by far the most successful owner in Cheltenham history. As such, Geraghty will enjoy a string of big name rides this year. He will partner the heavy favourite in the Champion Hurdle, Buveur d’Air, on Tuesday and if he wins, it could set the tone for the Festival, so he looks an interesting choice at 5/1 to be named top jockey.

Jack Kennedy

After splitting with Mullins, O’Leary became Elliott’s main owner and that partnership has proved extremely successful. Elliott won the leading trainer award at last year’s Festival, and he is in with a great chance of successfully defending it this year. Elliott’s top talent – including Apple’s Jade and Cause Of Causes – will be shared between teenager Kennedy and Davy Russell. The bookmakers think Kennedy will outshine Russell and they have him as the third favourite. He won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle aboard Labaik last year at the age of 17, and he appears to enjoy the trust of Elliott, so Kennedy should enjoy an even more fruitful Festival this time around.

The Rest

Russell is currently leading the race to be named champion jockey in Ireland this season and he is the 10/1 fourth favourite to finish top of the pile at Cheltenham. That is a compelling price on a man that seems to have established himself as O’Leary’s favourite pilot. Russell has ridden a winner at Cheltenham every year since 2006, landing 18 victories in total, and he will be desperate to cap a great season by seizing the top trainer award. Nico De Boinville looks an interesting option at 12/1 as he is Henderson’s retained rider and the Englishman has the heavy favourite in the Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup.

Noel Fehily will ride the likes of Our Duke and Special Tiara, so he is in with a chance, and what about Robbie Power at 50/1? He will be aboard Sizing John, Supasundae, Finian’s Oscar and possibly Don’t Touch It, so you never know. Walsh deserves to be the favourite but there are plenty of stars in the mix and they are all in with a chance of success, so it should prove to be another thrilling Festival.

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