Charlie Swan

Charlie Swan  Charlie Swan, who retired from the saddle in 2003, was Irish National Hunt Champion Jockey nine successive times but, as far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, will always be remembered for his association with Istabraq. An Irish sporting institution in his time, Istabraq was ridden by Swan on all 29 starts over hurdles and won 23 of them, including four at the Cheltenham Festival. In 1997, as a 5-year-old, he won the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle, but returned to Prestbury Park to win the Champion Hurdle in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Swan actually rode his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Trapper John, in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1990. In 1993, he rode four winners – Montelado in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Shawiya in the Triumph Hurdle, Fissure Seal in the Pertemps Network Final and Shuil Ar Aghaidh in the Stayers’ Hurdle – to become leading jockey at the meeting for the first time. When Peter Scudamore retired in April that year, Swan was approached by legendary trainer Martin Pipe about the vacant position as first jockey at Pond House Stables, but opted to stay in Ireland.

At the 1994 Cheltenham Festival, he won the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle on Danoli, the Champion Bumper on Mucklemeg and the Coral Cup on Time For A Run to become leading jockey for the second year running. The following year, he also won the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Viking Flagship, trained by David Nicholson, who would have the distinction of being his only winner over fences at the Cheltenham Festival. Swan won the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle again on Urbande in 1996 and, following his fruitful partnership with Istabraq, rode his final winners – Like A Butterfly in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Scolardy in the Triumph Hurdle – in 2002.

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.”

Robert Thornton

Robert Thornton  Robert “Chocolate” Thornton was forced to call time on his career as a jockey in September, 2015, after failing to fully recover from fractured vertebrae in his neck – the latest in a series of bad injuries – suffered in a fall at Chepstow the previous April. However, in nearly 20 years, for most of which he operated as stable jockey to Wiltshire trainer Alan King, Thornton rode 1,129 winners, including 16 at the Cheltenham Festival.

 

He rode his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, King Lucifer, trained by David Nicholson, in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup as an 18-year-old amateur in 1997 and completed a notable double on Pharanear in what is now the Pertemps Network Final for the same trainer just 35 minutes later. Thornton enjoyed his most successful year at the Cheltenham Festival in 2007, when victories on My Way De Solzen in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Voy Por Ustedes in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Katchit in the Triumph Hurdle and Andreas in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup made him leading jockey at the meeting for the one and only time.

 

He was, in fact, the last British jockey to win the leading jockey award at the Cheltenham Festival.

 

Thornton also won on his first two rides at the Cheltenham Festival in 2008, Captain Cee Bee in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Katchit in the Champion Hurdle, in what turned out to be the most successful season of his career, with 105 winners. His final Cheltenham Festival success came aboard Bensalem in what is now the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase in 1998, avenging a luckless defeat in the same race twelve months previously. All in all, Thornton won three of the four ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival, the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle, but never won the Cheltenham Gold Cup.