Top 5 Cheltenham Festival Jockeys 2021
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We’ve just come through a great era for jump jockeys. National Hunt racing was blessed with a collection of superb exponents of racing riding; amongst the most talented it had ever witnessed.
The three most successful jockeys of all time at The Cheltenham Festival are Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and AP McCoy. Geraghty (joint leading rider in 2020) brought down the curtain on that triumvirate when he retired last summer and so a changing of the guard is now fully executed.
Walsh (11 times), Geraghty (twice) and McCoy (twice) bagged 15 leading rider crowns at Cheltenham’s March extravaganza between them, riding no less than 130 winners combined.
Geraghty bowed out last year with five Festival winners, beaten only on a countback by Paul Townend after the latter won a Gold Cup in which Geraghty did not feature. Here we look at five contenders to be leading rider at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival in what is something of a new era in the weighing room.
Successor to Ruby Walsh as number one rider for the powerhouse Willie Mullins yard, Townend is Ireland’s champion jockey and in 2019 and 2020 he delivered successive Cheltenham Gold Cups for his boss on Al Boum Photo – a prize that previously proved so elusive for Team Mullins.
He pipped Geraghty in a count-back last March with five wins, two seconds and three thirds across four days at the Cheltenham Festival. Given the talent at Mullins’ disposal, it’s highly unlikely to be the first and only time Townend is crowned ‘King of the Cotswolds’ at this meeting.
Nico de Boinville
Stable jockey to Nicky Henderson and the man that steered the novice Coneygree to a remarkable Cheltenham Gold Cup win in 2015, de Boinville is amongst the most accomplished big-race riders in Britain and counts a hat-trick of Queen Mother Champion Chase successes on his CV already.
He has the might of the Seven Barrows team behind him and that firepower means he’s always likely to be in the conversation when it comes to being leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival.
With the emergence of trainer Gordon Elliott as such a force in recent times, being close to the Cullentra handler gives any rider a headstart. Kennedy was still a teenager when he partnered his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, the Elliott-trained outsider Labaik in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2017. He rode four winners the following year and, while he has suffered some injuries since, he is a big part of the Elliott team now and will have a fine book of Cheltenham rides come March.
The positive rise of female riders continues at pace and Rachael Blackmore is amongst the pacesetters, joining the likes of Bryony Frost in proving themselves as exceptionally talented jump jockeys.
Blackmore burst on the Cheltenham scene when A Plus Tard romped to a novice chase success in 2019 and she doubled up with Minella Indo in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett that same season. Her alliance with Henry De Bromhead is strong and she provided a race-riding masterclass when steering Honeysuckle up the running rail to win the Mares’ Hurdle last Marsh, denying Townend and Benie Des Dieux in a Cheltenham thriller. She surely has strong claims of becoming the first female to be leading rider at The Festival during her career.
Like Kennedy, Harry Cobden is still something of a boy in a man’s world but his talent and determination has helped him ascend to the upper echelons of racing despite being only 22 years old.
He got the job as stable jockey for Britain’s 12-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls when he was still a teenager and Cobden is growing in confidence year on year. With his Ditcheat boss enjoying a superb season that seems likely to end with Nicholls regaining his trainers’ championship crown, that success can be reflected onto his main rider.
Cobden is as determined as he is talented and has set his sights on becoming Britain’s champion jockey in the near future. His long-standing alliance with Colin Tizzard ensures he can hope to pick up some fine spare rides come Cheltenham in races where Nicholls doesn’t require his services.