Rupert ‘Ruby’ Walsh

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.

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.

Barry Geraghty

Barry Geraghty Notwithstanding the phenomenal record of compatriot Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty remains the second most successful jockey in the history of the Cheltenham Festival with an impressive tally of 36 winners. The first of them was Moscow Flyer, trained by Jessica Harrington, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 2002 and he rode at least one winner at every Cheltenham Festival for the next 14 years. In that period, he won each of the ‘championship’ races – Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup – at least twice and was crowned leading jockey at the Festival twice, in 2003 and 2012.

 

He won the Champion Hurdle twice, on Punjabi in 2009 and Jezki in 2014, the Queen Mother Champion Chase five times, on Moscow Flyer in 2003 and 2005, Big Zeb in 2010, Finian’s Rainbow in 2012 and Sprinter Sacre in 2013, the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, on Iris’s Gift in 2004 and More Of That in 2014 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, on Kicking King in 2005 and Bobs Worth 2013. He also won the Arkle Challenge Trophy five times and the Triumph Hurdle four times.

 

Following the retirement of Sir Anthony McCoy in April, 2015, Geraghty became the retained rider for the most successful owner ever at the Cheltenham Festival, John Patrick “J.P.” McManus, and the following season carried his familiar green and gold colours to victory aboard Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph Hurdle. Geraghty missed the 2017 Cheltenham Festival through injury, but resumed business as usual in 2018 with two more winners for J.P. McManus. He had to work hard to land odds of 8/15 on Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle, but there were not many easier winners all week than Prezien – one of five runners owned by J.P. McManus – in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup.

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