Rachael Blackmore set Prestbury Park alight during last year’s Cheltenham Festival. Coming into the meeting with not a lot of weight or expectations on her shoulders, the Irish rider defied all the horse racing odds, winning an impressive six races, five of which were at Grade 1 level, to become the first female rider to win not only a championship race at Cheltenham, but scoop the Leading Jockey Award in the process.
This year, things will be slightly different for the 32-year-old from Co. Tipperary though. The Cheltenham Festival is on the horizon and Blackmore isn’t sneaking in from left of field this time. Oh no, the Prestbury Park concourses will be full of punters who will all be expecting her to pull off the same heroics as last year, adding a bit more pressure to her rides — which shouldn’t be any issues for Blackmore. If anything, a full crowd behind her could be more motivation than the empty stands of last year.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the favourites to take home the prestigious award after this year’s renewal of the Cheltenham Festival. Read on to find out!
Having missed out on the award last year, Paul Townend will be very eager to get his hands back on the Top Jockey trophy again this year. Having won the accolade for the first time in his career in 2020, riding fifth winners, the 31-year-old Irishman couldn’t emulate that success last March. With major wins for Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead left, right and centre, Townend was left to pick up the scraps — leaving the Cotswolds with just three victories and without a championship race triumph. He’ll be hoping to ensure that doesn’t happen again this year and he will have plenty of chances aboard the likes of Ferny Hollow, Galopin Des Champs, Klassical Dream, Energumene and many more.
By now, we’ve all run out of superlatives to describe Blackmore. Her six victories last year, including wins in the Champion Hurdle and Ryanair Chase, were just a joy to behold and she will almost certainly be back in Cheltenham’s winners’ enclosure a few times this year. Of course, nothing at the Festival is guaranteed, but Honeysuckle, Allaho and Bob Olinger look about as close to certain winners as you get, while she also has great chances to land victories aboard Sir Gerhard and A Plus Tard — the latter of which would see her become the first female rider to win the Gold Cup.
Absent from last year’s Cheltenham Festival due to a serious neck injury, Davy Russell will be out to make up for lost time this year. In fact, so will his trusty trainer Gordon Elliott, whose ban from the sport due to a leaked image of him straddling a dead horse has expired. Russell was the Top Jockey with four wins in 2018, but given the competition he is up against in March, it’s hard to picture the 42-year-old replicating that success this year. Run Wild Fred, Tiger Roll, Ginto and Galvin are some of his best chances of victory.
Nico de Boinville is Britain’s best shot of winning the Top Jockey award for just the fourth time this millennium. However, it doesn’t seem very likely that the 2019 recipient is going to be even close to the mark set by Townend and Blackmore.