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No surprises as Walsh odds-on to be Festival top jockey

Coral have installed Ruby Walsh at their 4/7 favourite to be top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival.

The 34-year-old made history in 2010 when becoming the most successful jockey ever at the Festival, surpassing the record of 25 winners held by the late Pat Taaffe.

He currently stands on 38 Festival victories, having taken the Thomas Pink Leading Rider Award for the seventh time in the last decade in 2013.

This year he is set to partner a whole host of leading fancies for champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins, who is sending over what appears to be one of his strongest raiding parties for many a year.

Walsh won last year’s top jockey award with four victories, and it’s possible that he could get close to matching that total on the opening day (Tuesday, March 11th given the strength of his rides.

Vautour (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), Champagne Fever (Arkle Chase) and Quevega (OBLG Mares’ Hurdle) all head the betting for their respective races with Coral, whilst Hurricane Fly is the 100/30 second favourite to retaining his crown in the Champion Hurdle.

On day two, (Wednesday March 12th his two biggest hopes are Faugheen in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle and Ballycasey in the Royal Sun Alliance Chase.

The former is considered by many to be the Irish “banker” for the meeting and is currently a 3/1 chance with Coral, while Ballycasey shot to the head of the market for the RSA with a win in the Grade 1 Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase at Leopardstown and is 5/1 to make it three from three over fences.

The final two days of the meeting don’t look as strong for Walsh, but the ace in the pack on the penultimate day Thursday, March 13th could well be Annie Power if, as expected, she lines up for the World Hurdle instead of the Champion Hurdle on the opening day.

The six-year-old, who is unbeaten in 10 races, looks the best mare to come out of Ireland since the mighty Dawn Run and is 5/2 joint-favourite with Coral to make the most of the 7lb sex allowance she gets from fellow market leader Big Buck’s and land the stayers’ championship.

On the final day Friday, March 14th Walsh’s best chance of a win would seem to lie with Briar Hill in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Last year’s Champion Bumper winner is unbeaten in three runs over hurdles and is a real stayer who looks sure to relish the 3m trip. He is a currently the 4/1 second favourite with Coral , with David Pipe’s King’s Palace heading the market at 7/2.

Walsh’s main rival to be top jockey is likely to be Barry Geraghty, who triumphed in 2012 with five successes.

He is the only jockey, other than Walsh, to win the coveted prize since 2008 and has two big guns to go to war with in the shape of Sprinter Sacre (Queen Mother Champion Chase) and Bobs Worth (Cheltenham Gold Cup).

Both are favourites with Coral, at 4/5 and 2/1 respectively, to retain their crowns.

Away from the “big two” Geraghty also has some potentially nice rides in the shape of Josses Hill (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), Grandouet (Arkle Chase), Royal Boy (Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle), Dawalan (Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle) and Oscar Whisky (JLT Novices’ Chase).