Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# CheltFest
Who will be champion jockey?
Giddy up: meet the men in the driving seat this week.

1. Ruby Walsh

Odds to be top jockey: 6-4

Cheltenham record: An amazing 27 wins. Walsh opened his account on Alexander Banquet in ’98 and shot to the top of the all-time list with three wins last year. Twice a Gold Cup winner with Kauto Star; only the Champion Hurdle has eluded him – he may address that on Hurricane Fly today.

What he says: “Honestly, I’ll go there with one aim; just ride one winner and come out of there in one piece. Anything else? A bonus.”

We say: The Irish man is the red hot favourite to land another top jockey prize. And for good reason. Although Walsh is a best-priced 6/4, his supporters are braced for one or two surprises when details of his schedule emerge over the coming days.

But with a book of rides that include the likes of Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Master Minded, Poquelin and Big Bucks, Ruby won’t be far off at all.

2. Barry Geraghty

Odds to be top jockey: 5-2

Cheltenham record: 19 wins. Victories include all the big ‘uns  — Champion Hurdle (Punjabi, ’09); Champion Chase (Moscow Flyer, ’03 and ’05; Big Zeb, ’10); Gold Cup (Kicking King, ’05) and World Hurdle (Iris’s Gift, ’04).

Top tip:  Big Zeb

What they say:

“Cheltenham is a monster. It really is. Every major sport has its really big stage and this is ours. And there is pressure that comes with that. But it is how you deal with all of that which is important. You can’t let the occasion get the better of you and get swallowed up by the hype and the build-up. If you’re at the start worrying that ‘this is Cheltenham’ then you’re in trouble. You have to remember these are just horse races, the same thing we do every day. And the calmer you are, the better you are.”

TheScore says: Barry Geraghty and his arch-rival Ruby have amassed 46 winners between them over the years at Prestbury Park. They’ll add a few to that this week. The score for the top jockey award stands at 5-1 in the favour of Walsh, but one gets the feeling the returning Ruby might be caught by Geraghty.

The Co Meath jockey has Big Zeb in the Champion Chase and Noble Prince in the Golden Miller amongst his likely mounts from Ireland, but the majority of his best rides come from just one source, Nicky Henderson’s stable. It’s not a bad partnership to have.

3. Tony McCoy

Odds to be top jockey: 8-1

Cheltenham record: 23 wins. Binocular’s triumph last season made it three Champion Hurdles for a jockey who has also won the Gold Cup with Mr Mulligan (1997) and the Champion Chase with Edredon Bleu (2000).

Top tip: Captain Cee Bee

What they say: “The funny thing is that everyone used to ask me, ‘When are you going to win the Grand National?’ I managed to do that last season [on Don't Push It] so now everyone’s saying, ‘You’ve not won a Gold Cup for years, when’s that going to happen, is it ever going to happen again?’

“But the thing is that people don’t realise is that it’s a very difficult race to win.”

We  say: The BBC Sports Personality of the Year is third favourite at around 9-1 and rightly so, really. AP was said to be ‘gutted’ by Binocular’s dramatic defection this week but that didn’t affect his odds too much. But that setback is likely to mean it’s too much to catch Ruby and Geraghty.

Albertas Run, the winner of the Ryanair Chase at last year’s Festival, is the 7-1 third‑favourite for a repeat success on Thursday, while McCoy is also likely to ride the favourite, Aigle D’Or, in the fiercely competitive Festival Plate Handicap the same afternoon. In the Queen Mother Champion Chase, meanwhile, McCoy will partner Captain Cee Bee.

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4. Robert Thornton

Odds to be top jockey: 10-1

Cheltenham record: 15 wins. He won here as a teenage amateur, but it took time for ‘Choc’ to fill his potential. Katchit’s Champion Hurdle three years ago is his stand-out victory.

Top tip: Somersby

We say: Alan King’s horses have been flying this campaign and retained jockey Thornton could be in with a shout. A winner in 2007 Thornton will partner some interesting juveniles. ’Choc’ will replace Hadden Frost on Henrietta Knight’s Somersby in the Queen Mother Champion Chase tomorrow. 10-1 is tempting.

He might well find himself in the winner’s enclosure in a busy week.

Others: Richard Johnson 14-1, Robert Thornton 10-1, Paul Townend 14-1, Daryl Jacob 16-1, Jason Maguire 25-1, davy Russell 33-1.