Annie Power

Annie Power, who was retired from racing following a very impressive 18-length victory in the Aintree Hurdle in April, 2016 – which earnt her her highest-ever Timeform rating of 170+ – was an extraordinary racemare who won fifteen of her seventeen starts. She is probably best remembered for being one of just four mares, and the first since Flakey Dove in 1994, to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. However, her 4½-length victory over My Tent Or Yours in the 2016 renewal of the two-mile hurdling championship – for which she had been supplemented, at a cost of £20,000 to connections – was her third consecutive appearance at the Cheltenham Festival.

Bred and originally owned by Eamon Cleary, Annie Power was bought by Rich and Susannah Ricci and transferred to Willie Mullins after winning two ‘bumpers’ for her original trainer, Jim Bolger, in August, 2012. She won her first seven starts over hurdles, including the Irish Stallions EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship at Fairyhouse, by a very easy 12 lengths, en route to her first appearance at the Cheltenham Festival. Despite racing over a distance beyond 2 miles 4½ furlongs for the first time in her career, she was sent off 11/8 favourite for the 2014 World Hurdle, but suffered what would be her only defeat in sixteen completed starts.

The following year, Annie Power returned to the Cheltenham Festival for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, in which she boasted far and away the best form and was consequently sent off 1/2 favourite. A flying leap at the second-last flight took her into the lead and she was in command, with the race at her mercy, approaching the final flight. However, Annie Power took off a full stride too soon, clipped the top bar and fell; in so doing, she saved the bookmaking industry an estimated £50 million after victories for Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen – all hot favourites and, like Annie Power, all trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh – in the first three races of the day.

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.”

Rupert ‘Ruby’ Walsh

Granted his lengthy association with Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls, the fact that Ruby Walsh is, far and away, the most successful jockey in the history of the Cheltenham Festival is no real surprise. Mullins has saddled 61 winners at the March showpiece meeting, Nicholls has saddled 43 and, between them, they have won the leading trainer award 11 times.

Coincidentally, Walsh has also won the leading jockey award 11 times, including five years running between 2013 and 2017. Indeed, he was favourite to do so again in 2018 but, after two early wins – which took his career total to 58 – aggravated a leg injury, sustained at Punchestown the previous November, when Al Boum Photo fell at the penultimate fence in the RSA Chase on the second day, and missed the rest of the Festival.

Walsh rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Alexander Banquet, trained by Mullins, in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 1998, as an 18-year-old amateur. Having turned professional, he had to wait a few years for his second, Blowing Wind, trained by Martin Pipe, in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup in 2002 but, thereafter, has ridden at least one winner at every Cheltenham Festival.

His notable successes include the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, on Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009, the Champion Hurdle four times, on Hurricane Fly in 2011 and 2013, Faugheen in 2015 and Annie Power in 2016, the Queen Mother Champion Chase three times, on Azertyuiop in 2004 and Master Minded in 2008 and 2009, and the Stayers’ Hurdle five times, on Big Buck’s in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and Nichols Canyon in 2017. The four ‘championship’ races aside, together Walsh and Mullins have ‘farmed’ the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, winning all bar three of the eleven renewals – including six in a row between 2009 and 2014, with Quevega – since it was added to the Festival programme in 2008.