The Cheltenham Festival is the true benchmark of success in professional horse racing, and it’s every jockey’s dream to ride multiple winners at the famous old meeting. Each year, there are riders who enjoy a purple patch at Cheltenham, and end up with the adulation of the thousands of spectators packed into the Prestbury Park stands.
With the 2021 Cheltenham Festival fast approaching, it’s a good time to look back at last year’s top jockeys – the riders that wowed the crowds in what would be one the last major spectator sporting events before the coronavirus pandemic put paid to mass gatherings. But before covid shut down sport across the world, the Cheltenham Festival was a memorable occasion, especially for the following jockeys.
It was Paul Townend that ultimately scraped the top jockey accolade with five wins across the Festival’s four days. Heading into Gold Cup Day, it had looked unlikely that Townend would head the leaderboard, but a sensational three wins on the final day of the Festival made it a real occasion to savour.
Townend’s first win of the Festival last year came in the final race of day two, as he rode Ferny Hollow to victory in the Champion Bumper. The following day he triumphed in the Ryanair Chase with Min, before Friday 13th proved to be a lucky day for him. Townend opened his Gold Cup Day with a victory on board Burning Victory in the Triumph Hurdle, followed by success in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle with Monkfish. Then, to cap it all off, a memorable second successive Gold Cup triumph with Al Boum Photo, who was a strong favourite in the Cheltenham betting market, made it a fine day of racing from the Irishman.
Another Irish jockey who enjoyed a fine time of it at last year’s Festival was Barry Geraghty. Unlike Townend, Geraghty started strong, and recorded at least one win on each day of the Festival. He began with a strong performance in the Champion Hurdle, winning the race on board Epatante. Two successive wins on Ladies Day with Champ and Dame De Compagnie brought Geraghty’s total to three, and further victories with Sire Du Berlais and Saint Roi ensured it was a five-star week for the jockey.
Geraghty announced his retirement from the sport not long after Cheltenham last year, and it will be interesting to see how his various horses compete this year with someone else in the saddle.
The only other jockey that managed more than one win at last year’s Cheltenham Festival was Davy Russell, who recorded a respectable two wins over the meeting’s four days. His first came in the opening race of day two, as he successfully rode Envoi Allen to victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. This was followed a day later with a win in the Marsh Novices’ Chase with Samcro, as Russell proved his enduring quality.
For fans of the Irish jockey, there was disappointment with the news that Russell will miss out on the 2021 Festival due to injury. For now, he can content himself with his two winners from last year.