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Jump jockeys are a hardy bunch, that much we know. But with that toughness also comes no little skill in the saddle and we’ve seen some of not just horse racing’s, but sport’s best competitors in this field.
The Cheltenham Festival has been blessed in the past by the performances of the likes of Barry Geraghty, Ruby Walsh and all-time great AP McCoy.
Between them, those three jockeys landed leading Cheltenham rider titles 15 times over the years. Collectively, the trio steered home an incredible 130 winners.
Naturally, the top riders are also given the top jobs with the most prominent owners and trainers. With that in mind, we take a look at those competing to become the latest leading rider at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival. Here are the potential top 5 as we see it.
Blackmore didn’t just finish up as 2021’s leading female rider, but was the top jockey overall. She almost won the Cheltenham Gold Cup just to put the final nail in everyone else’s coffin.
Her ability in the saddle is simply not in question. The Grand National-winning rider is nailed-on to be among the top Cheltenham Festival jockeys once more with a number of top rides already certain for some of the most powerful operations in the game.
Blackmore is hot property in National Hunt racing. This is important for leading rider backers as, even when she’s not riding for her regular trainers, she will no doubt be in high demand with every other handler at the festival if she were to become available.
Nico de Boinville
Kennedy is another leading rider contender owing to his associations with Gigginstown Stud and trainer Gordon Elliott. Of course, Elliott wasn’t allowed to train officially at the 2021 festival, but he’ll be back in 2022 and has been busy buying up a whole new string of potentially top-class animals.
Kennedy will doubtless ride in all the major Grade 1 races at the festival. If he is to achieve his dream to be leading rider of the week, he’ll need a full book but that looks in no doubt at this early stage.
He will be retained by his bosses, so his actual chances of riding the most winners won’t come down only to his ability, but it will depend on how well the horses he is associated with do over the winter heading into Dublin and Cheltenham.
While it was down to rivals Jack Kennedy and Rachael Blackmore to ride out the finish of the Gold Cup in 2021, Kennedy ultimately on the winner, it was Paul Townend who rode the previous two aboard Al Boum Photo.
Heavily associated with the all-powerful Willie Mullins yard, Townend will once again have a very envious book of rides in 2022.
Mullins himself will be desperate to have leading fancies in just about every race during the week, Townend crucially getting first pick of just about all of them.
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.
After getting embroiled in a battle for the British jockey’s title last season with Brian Hughes, it was interesting to see the support Harry Skelton garnered from many trainers away from his main job with his brother Dan.
He was handed leading rides left, right and centre until he successfully landed the title. A similar thing could yet happen during the festival as Skelton has proven his work ethic, as well as his skill and he, could be a fair outside squeak for leading rider honours.