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2016 Cheltenham Festival: Who will be top jockey?

David Metcalf | March 9, 2016

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby!

Ruby Walsh has dominated the Boodles Leading Jockey Award at the Cheltenham Festival, taking the title nine times in the last 12 years.

The only three occasions the rider has not topped the table during that time came in 2012 (Barry Geraghty), 2007 (Robert Thornton) and 2005 (Graham Lee) and this year he is red-hot favourite to succeed again.

Here’s a look at his rides ahead of the four-day spectacular which gets underway on Tuesday, March 15th, and those of his main market rivals Geraghty and Bryan Cooper.

Ruby Walsh – 1/3 to be top jockey

Walsh’s best total at the Festival came in 2009, when he enjoyed a record seven successes. He is the top jockey of all-time at the meeting with 45 wins.

The 36-year-old is stable jockey to Ireland’s champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins, who once again has a formidable team heading into the Festival.

Ruby Walsh laughing before schooling after racing Leopardstown Photo: Patrick McCann 28.02.2016

Last year, an opening day three-timer – which would have been stretched to four successes if Annie Power had not fallen at the last with the Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy – got him off to a flyer.

Walsh will be hoping to get off to a similar start this year on short-priced Cheltenham betting favourites Min (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), Douvan (Arkle Trophy), Annie Power (Champion Hurdle) and Vroum Vroum Mag (Mares’ Hurdle).

Walsh (1/3 to be top jockey) will also be on-board odds-on shots Un De Sceaux in Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Limini in the newly introduced Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on day three.

He also has big chance of landing the Gold Cup on Friday, March 18th, on either last year’s runner-up Djakadam or dual Festival scorer Vautour. It is expected that he will partner the latter, who was ultra-impressive when landing the JLT Novices’ Chase at the meeting 12 months ago.

Barry Geraghty – 6/1

Geraghty (6/1) won the leading jockey award in 2003 and 2012 and has a total of 33 Festival winners to his name. He left trainer Nicky Henderson to become the retained rider to leading Irish owner JP McManus following the retirement of AP McCoy, and has what looks a strong book of rides at the Festival.

Yanworth is odds-on for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle which gets proceedings underway on day two, and is considered by many to be the banker of the week. The Alan King trained gelding has been ultra-impressive in winning all three starts over hurdles and is going to be tough to beat.

HORSE RACING

Other leading hopes include 2014 World Hurdle winner More Of That, favourite for the RSA Chase on Wednesday, March 16th, and the highly regraded Ivanovic Gorbatchov who heads the betting for the Triumph Hurdle on the final day.

Geraghty also has whole host of interesting rides in the handicaps, including Cup Final who looks very well-treated in the Pertemps Final, and Upswing who goes for either the Ultima Handicap Chase or the Kim Muir.

Bryan Cooper – 10/1 to be top jockey

Cooper, 23, has quickly risen through the ranks and came to everyone’s attention in the 2012/13 season with three wins at the Festival aboard Benefficient, Our Conor in the Triumph Hurdle and Ted Veale.

At the beginning of 2014, Cooper took over the position of retained jockey for powerful Irish owners the Gigginstown House Stud, and steered Don Poli to success for them in last year’s RSA Chase to secure his fourth Festival winner.

Gigginstown has assembled what looks a very strong squad for this year’s meeting, spearheaded by leading Gold Cup hopes Don Cossack and Don Poli.

Cooper4

Cooper (10/1) is leaving a decision on who to partner until the latest possible moment, but both have outstanding claims of capturing chasing’s blue riband.

Identity Thief is the mount of Cooper in the Champion Hurdle on the opening day, and the Henry De Bromhead trained gelding is a progressive sort who has to rate a major player, in whats looks a wide-open renewal in the absence of defending champ Faugheen.

No More Heroes has looked a potential superstar in winning his three starts over fences, and is strongly fancied for the RSA Chase, whilst Alpha Des Obeaux is an improving sort and second-favourite for the World Hurdle.

Cooper also has some good rides in the novice hurdle contest, including A Toi Phil in the Neptune and the highly-touted Gangster in the Albert Bartlett.

Conclusion: Whilst it’s easy to see why Ruby Walsh is long odds-on to capture a 10th leading jockey title, much will depend on how his quartet of hotpots fare on the opening day. The strength of Bryan Cooper’s mounts may have sneaked under the radar a bit, and at 10/1 he looks decent value to capture the prize.

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