Since the turn of the Millennium Ruby Walsh has had his name etched into the Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey honours board on seven separate occasions and the Irish superstar will head into next week’s national hunt extravaganza as the man to beat yet again around the undulations of Prestbury Park, as he will partner a plethora of top class horses throughout the four days of top jumping action from the Gloucestershire venue.
Having elected to relinquish his duties at Paul Nicholls’ Ditcheat yard, some had questioned Walsh’s decision to just stick to being stable jockey to Willie Mullins, but the firepower the Co. Carlow maestro has at his disposal at this year’s festival just emphasises why Walsh opted to focus his thoughts on Mullins’ clan and during the four days he will partner an army of heavyweights.
A best-priced 4/7 with BetVictor to lift the Thomas Pink Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey award on Friday 14 March, Walsh will have some major chances throughout the week and with Vautour and Champagne Fever opening up his Cheltenham team and looking to have major chances in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle Trophy respectively, he could quickly propel into the lead.
However, his opening day’s rides will reach a peak later on in the afternoon as he will aim to steer Hurricane Fly to a hat-trick of Champion Hurdle titles, before donning the famous Quevega silks to try and guide that mare to a sixth consecutive win in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle in what could be another electric opening day for the Irish champion.
Throughout the week, Walsh will be a prominent figure at GL50 and for many he could be one of the banker’s of the meeting and at 4/7 is worth backing as the likes of Ballycasey, Felix Yonger and Faugheen could be a triumvirate of exciting novices who could sparkle, whilst with the news breaking over the weekend that Annie Power will head to the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, then Walsh will partner that unbeaten mare against his old stalwart Big Buck’s in a fascinating renewal.
Whilst Walsh yet again has a phenomenal book of rides, Barry Geraghty, who is next in the betting at around 5/1, lacks the strength he had last year as Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig will not make the trip from Nicky Henderson’s base. The Seven Barrows operation will have a host of exciting runners throughout the four-day jamboree with Bobs Worth a shining beacon in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Geraghty will struggle to land a blow on Walsh and could find things tougher than last year, where he won the crown by riding five winners.
AP McCoy is always a name never to under-estimate in the national hunt ranks, but the perennial champion jockey hasn’t bagged the top jockey crown since 1998 and whilst he partner some major players during the week including My Tent Or Yours and At Fishers Cross, he often struggles to pick up enough classy rides to warrant backing at a meagre 8/1 with most firms.
Bryan Cooper has hit the ground running with his new job as first jockey to the Gigginstown House Stud and the emerging Irish star was one of the stars of last year’s festival and he is sure to partner some exciting runners throughout the week, whilst picking up some spare rides along the way and he is available at 14/1.
Daryl Jacob has taken over some major rides from the aforementioned Walsh from Paul Nicholls stable, but he is another who is skinny at 20/1 with Nicholls unlikely to land more than a couple of winners during the week, whilst Sam Twiston-Davies will hope that The New One can sparkle in the Champion Hurdle, but will be another who lacks strength in depth and that pair are 20/1.
With the market only being offered at win only then it’s extremely tough to take on Walsh, who if all goes to the form book could be venturing into the winner’s enclosure a lot, but Tom Scudamore’s price of 33/1 is awfully big in comparison to other jockeys as he has the plum ride on Kings Palace in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, whilst is sure to partner some exciting David Pipe-trained runners in handicaps along with Dynaste in the Ryanair and he can certainly finish in the top three.