Sir Anthony McCoy

Sir Anthony McCoy Sir Anthony Peter ‘A.P.’ McCoy retired from race riding in April, 2015, having ridden 4,348 winners in Britain and Ireland and won the British National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship 20 years running. At the so-called ‘Olympics of horse racing’, the Cheltenham Festival, McCoy rode 31 winners, making him the third most successful jockey in the history of the March showpiece meeting, behind Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty.

 

His first Festival winner, Kibreet in the Grand Annual Chase in 1996, was trained by Philip Hobbs, but most of his early winners – including Make A Stand, winner of the Champion Hurdle in 1997 – were trained by Martin Pipe. Indeed, in 1997, McCoy also rode Or Royal to win the Arkle Challenge Trophy and Mr. Mulligan, trained by Noel Chance, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and become leading jockey at the Festival for the first time, with three winners.

 

In 1998, McCoy won the Leading Jockey Award, again, with five winners. He won the Arkle Challenge Trophy again, on Champleve, the Pertemps Final on Unsinkable Boxer, the Cathcart Challenge Cup on Cyfor Malta and the County Hurdle on Blowing Wind, all trained by Pipe, and the Grand Annual Chase on Edredon Bleu, trained by Henrietta Knight. Thereafter, McCoy rode at least one Cheltenham Festival winner in every year bar two, 2001 and 2005, of his career, finally signing off with Uxizandre, owned by J.P. McManus and trained by Alan King, in the Ryanair Chase in 2015.

 

In terms of the main ‘championship’ races, McCoy won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, on Mr. Mulligan and Synchronised, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, in 2012, the Champion Hurdle three times, on Make A Stand, Brave Inca, trained by Colm Murphy, in 2006 and Binocular, trained by Nicky Henderson, in 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, McCoy never won the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson Following the retirement of Sir Anthony McCoy in April, 2015, Richard Johnson finally emerged from the shadow of the perennial champion jockey to claim the leading jockey title for himself in 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18. Johnson is also the fifth most successful jockey in the history of the Cheltenham Festival – behind Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty, McCoy and Pat Taafe – with 22 winners.

His first success at what has become known as the ‘Olympics of horse racing’ came aboard Anzum, trained by David Nicholson, in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1999, but Johnson wasted little time in completing his set of the championship races that headline each of the four days. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Looks Like Trouble, trained by Noel Chance, in 2000, the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Flagship Uberalles, trained by Philip Hobbs, in 2002 and the Champion Hurdle on Rooster Booster, also trained by Hobbs, in 2003.

After riding at least one winner at five successive Cheltenham Festivals, Johnson finally drew a blank in 2005. He managed just one winner in 2006 and 2007 and was, again, winnerless in 2008 and 2009, before winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Menorah and the Centenary Novices’ Chase on Copper Bleu, both trained by Philip Hobbs, in 2010.

Although finding Festival winners harder to come by in recent years, Johnson has also won the Arkle Challenge Trophy, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, the Pertemps Network Final and the Triumph Hurdle on Hobbs-trained horses. In 2017, he also won the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on Flying Tiger, trained by Nick Williams and, in 2018, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for the second time, on Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard. After the latter success, Johnson said, “I’m speechless. He’s been a fantastic horse for me and I was lucky to pick up the ride on him.”

Tom George

Tom George Tom George started training in 1993 and, in two-and-a-half decades since, has saddled over 700 winners and transformed his traditional, family home at Down Farm in Slad, near Stroud, Gloucestershire into an up-to-the-minute training establishment. By his own admission, George prefers a patient approach, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. His philosophy appears to be paying dividends because, in 2016/17, he enjoyed his most successful season ever, financially, surpassing £1 million in prize money for the first time and, in 2017/18, fell only just short of that mark.

Indeed, of the ten Grade One winners that George has saddled during his 25-year career, three of them came in 2017/18. Of course, two of those wins were provided by the same horse, Summerville Boy, who beat Kalashnikov in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, before confirming the form in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle to give George only his second winner at the Cheltenham Festival.

George deliberately avoided a clash between Summerville Boy and his other highly promising novice hurdler, Black Op, who also runs in the colours of high-profile owner Roger Brookhouse. Consequently, Black Op ran in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, rather than the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and finished a highly creditable second, beaten just 2¾ lengths, behind odds-on favourite Samcro.

Black Op was, in fact, attempting to follow in the footsteps of the only previous Cheltenham Festival winner for the yard, Galileo, who won the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – at the time, run as the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle – in 2002. Galileo, a Polish-bred gelding – not to be confused with the 2001 Derby winner of the same name – failed to progress after promising start to his racing career but, with two Grade One-winning novice hurdlers in his yard, along with plenty more ammunition, it’s probably safe to say that George will be enjoying further success at the Festival before long.