The four-day Cheltenham Festival gets underway on Tuesday 15th March and we're taking a look at some of the contenders to be top jockey at the meeting.
The honour of being leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival has always been a keen battle but, more so, since the retirement of the all-time most successful jockey at the meeting as the leading reinsman now gets their name on the Ruby Walsh Trophy.
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There was a piece of history last March when Rachael Blackmore became the first female to top the jockeys' table with six winners - but can she repeat the feat in 2022? Here's a look at six of the contenders.
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History-maker Blackmore partnered six winners in a scintillating Cheltenham Festival last spring and only narrowly missed out on the Gold Cup to boot as A Plus Tard finished second.
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The Henry De Bromhead-trained runner is a leading contender at 3/1 for Gold Cup glory this year, with many feeling he's the one to beat in the showpiece race.
Of course, Blackmore's partnership with unbeaten mare Honeysuckle will dominate talk on Day One as they are 8/13 to retain the Champion Hurdle crown. Having won at a 'behind closed doors' Festival in 2021, they'll get a rapturous reception if they charge up the hill in front again.
Blackmore is also likely to be on Telmesomethinggirl, 3/1 to scoop the Mares' Hurdle on Tuesday, while last year's Ballymore winner, Bob Olinger, is 1/1 to maintain his unbeaten chasing record in the Turners Novices' Chase on Thursday 17th March.
The 'Queen of Cheltenham' has her chance to shine again and punters will recall she rode two winners for Willie Mullins last March - Sir Gerhard and Allaho. Will Closutton boost her book of rides in similar fashion now? Anything she gets on is assured a calm, clever and calculated steer around the Cotswolds and she is 11/2 to repeat her top jockey success of last year.
Four-time Irish champion jockey and leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020, Paul Townend has the best job in racing as No.1 jockey to Willie Mullins.
The Cork-born man has been at Closutton since he was a teenager, honing his skills as understudy to Ruby Walsh and is now established as top dog having succeeded the great man when he retired in 2019.
Townend was the man that finally ended Mullins' Gold Cup hoodoo when he partnered Al Boum Photo in 2019 and they retained the prize a year later. Third last time, they are 9/1 to emulate the great Kauto Star in regaining the Gold Cup prize on 18th March.
Townend's book of rides will be the envy of his weighing room peers. The likes of Sir Gerhard, Dysart Dynamo and The Nice Guy will be leading contenders in whichever novice hurdles they take aim at.
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Galopin Des Champs is perhaps the most exciting novice chaser in training and is set to target the Turners Novices' Chase, where he's 11/10 to score.
Allaho is a 'Festival banker' to many in the Ryanair and trades at 4/9 to retain his crown next Thursday, while Klassical Dream is amongst the leading contenders for Stayers' Hurdle glory at 4/1.
Perhaps the toughest part of Townend's job is sometimes having to choose between Mullins runners in big races - a challenge he faces in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday as Energumene, who is 7/2 to win, and 5/1 shot Chacun Pour Soi bid to thwart unbeaten Shishkin.
One thing he won't be short on is quality and a second leading rider gong at 4/6 is surely within his reach.
Davy Russell is now the elder statesman of the weighing room since the likes of Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Richard Johnson hung up their boots.
He missed last year with a neck injury but the Irishman has been back in flying form in recent months, including a visit to Cheltenham on Trials Day. Russell's nous in the saddle and ability to be a 'right place, right time' rider in the Cotswolds has often proved invaluable and he is 5/1 to be crowned the week's leading rider.
His dreams of a second Gold Cup are resting on 3/1 Galvin for Gordon Elliott. They were last spotted storming home to win the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December, pipping A Plus Tard on the post. A winner at the meeting last March, Galvin has the stamina required for the Gold Cup and Russell will be hoping to stir memories of coaxing Lord Windermere to a narrow win in 2014.
That Trials Day visit saw Pied Piper absolutely canter to victory in a Triumph Hurdle Trial and he's 5/2 to add the 4YO Grade 1 on Friday 18th March after that facile success.
Russell rode a winner at every Cheltenham Festival from 2006-2018, an immense feat. A key member of the Elliott team, he's sure to have plenty chances in handicaps across the week and he rarely leaves the Cotswolds disappointed.
Stable jockey to Nicky Henderson, Nico de Boinville was the leading rider at Cheltenham in 2019, though his tally of three winners was the lowest to earn that honour since 2008.
De Boinville, 14/1 to be crowned the week's top jockey, is one of the coolest of riders, who doesn't appear to get fazed with success or failure.
He'll be hell-bent on a fast start as unbeaten Constitution Hill is 9/4 to take out the Supreme Novices' Hurdle for Seven Barrows, though the curtain-raiser does look red-hot on paper.
Wednesday is D-Day for de Boinville as unbeaten chaser and dual Cheltenham Festival winner Shishkin is 4/5 to be crowned Champion Chaser. Together, de Boinville and Shishkin answered a major question in winning the Clarence House Chase in January, but the challenge on Wednesday will be stronger again.
De Boinville may lack the overall firepower to land the leading rider award this time.
Last year's Gold Cup hero Jack Kennedy appears to have lost the seat on Minella Indo this time due to his commitments with Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud.
He can, however, look forward to the likes of 4/1 Riviere D'etel in the Arkle, 8/1 Teahupoo in the Champion Hurdle and 9/2 Ginto in the Albert Bartlett - three genuine chances in Grade 1 events.
As that Gold Cup win last March proved, Kennedy is a go-to man for Irish trainers when not required by Elliott.
The Cullentra House handler, meanwhile, is set to take his largest-ever squad to Cheltenham, with more than 50 runners, and as a key part of his trainer's plans, Kennedy is 8/1 for the top jockey prize.
They don't call him 'Canny Danny' for nothing and at 40/1, the King George-winning pilot could be the lively outsider for the top jockey prize.
As he showed at Kempton over Christmas, he's got his wits about him and can read a race tremendously well. Victory on Flooring Porter last March enhanced the notion he's a shrewd frontrunner but that Boxing Day win on Tornado Flyer illustrated he can judge pace well from anywhere.
Flooring Porter is a 3/1 chance to retain the Stayers' Hurdle on Thursday 17th March, while Tornado Flyer is a lively 14/1 chance in the Gold Cup if he goes there.
As understudy to Townend for his uncles' powerful operation at Closutton, Danny Mullins will pick up some of the classiest 'cast-offs' going at Cheltenham and could profit plenty from that scenario.
At likely big odds, he might be one to consider as a dark horse in the race to be top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival.
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