Cheltenham Jockeys 2021

The four days of the Cheltenham Festival are the most important of the year for jump jockeys in Britain and Ireland, offering a chance to make history in the sport’s most prestigious races and on its biggest stage. No leading rider’s CV is complete without a Cheltenham Festival victory and those at the very top of their profession battle it out each year to be crowned the Cheltenham Festival top jockey. Here we look at the greatest Cheltenham Festival jockeys of all time, recall some of the meeting’s most historic moments in the saddle and run through the main contenders for top jockey Cheltenham 2021.

The Current Cheltenham Top Jockey

Paul Townend, No.1 rider for Ireland’s 14-time champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins and favourite to be top jockey Cheltenham 2021, claimed the Festival top jockey award for the first time last year, trumping the Cheltenham free bet offers. But it was a close-run thing. Townend was clear favourite for the title but was slow off the mark and, by the time he landed his first winner in the final race on the second day, fellow Irishman Barry Geraghty already had three victories on the board. One apiece on Thursday sent the rivals into the final day with Geraghty on four and Townend on two, but a fantastic treble from Townend was enough to clinch the prize. Geraghty did add another winner to his tally to finish level but Townend had ridden more second-placed horses and was crowned Cheltenham Festival top jockey. 

2021 Cheltenham Top Jockey Odds

The Cheltenham Festival top jockey is usually the one who has the most firepower behind them – and when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival, no-one provides more firepower than Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins. Paul Townend is No.1 rider to Mullins and took the title in 2020, and his Cheltenham top jockey odds for 2021 will be short. No other jockey can look forward to a book of rides anywhere near as strong as he can and, granted his fair share of luck, he is by far the likeliest winner. 

Two other trainers who can be relied on to provide a few winners for jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival are Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliott. Nico de Boinville, who was Cheltenham top jockey in 2019 and partners likely day-one banker Shishkin in the Arkle Chase, will have some decent rides for Henderson. Aidan Coleman rides Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante for the trainer as well as leading fancy Paisley Park for Emma Lavelle in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Jack Kennedy also has a shot at being top jockey Cheltenham 2021 through his association with Elliott, while Davy Russell should pick up some nice rides for the stable including Envoi Allen, hot favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase. Rachael Blackmore, who has ridden three Cheltenham Festival winners in the last two years, has a chance of making history by becoming the first female Cheltenham top jockey. Her Cheltenham top jockey odds were cut dramatically just before last year’s Cheltenham Festival and she could be popular with punters again.

Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey Awards

Paul Townend is the current Cheltenham Festival top jockey, continuing the dominance of Irish riders. Only three British jockeys have been Cheltenham top jockey in the last 15 years, although this is mainly due to the record of Irish legend Ruby Walsh, who claimed the title 11 times between 2004 and 2017. Walsh is by far the most successful jockey of all time at the Cheltenham Festival, with 59 victories. Second in that list is Barry Geraghty, on 43 winners, who was Cheltenham Festival top jockey in 2003 and 2012. Third is Tony McCoy, with 31 winners, who was Cheltenham top jockey in 1997 and 1998. All three of those riders are now retired, leaving Davy Russell, on 25 winners and top jockey in 2018, as the most successful rider still competing, making for a great topic in the Cheltenham tips and predictions.

Previous Top Jockey Award Winners

Ruby Walsh has dominated the Cheltenham Festival top jockey award, winning it 11 times. In two of those years he rode seven winners, something no other jockey has achieved. Only three other riders have claimed the title in the last ten years: Nico de Boinville triumphed in 2019, when just three victories proved enough, while four wins gave the title to Davy Russell in 2018. Barry Geraghty, the second-most successful jockey of all time at the Cheltenham Festival, claimed the Cheltenham top jockey award in 2012 with five wins, as he did in 2003. He rode five again at last year’s Festival but it wasn’t enough to stop the prize going to Paul Townend, who also rode five but had achieved more second place finishes.

Top Cheltenham Jockeys Of All Time

Ruby Walsh is the most successful jockey of all time at the Cheltenham Festival but one of his most famous rides was on a loser. In 2015 punters latched onto Walsh’s fancied runners in four of the first five races – all of whom were short-priced favourites – with many combining them in accumulators. The first three obliged and when 1-2 favourite Annie Power approached the last in the Mares’ Hurdle four lengths clear and with an easy victory in sight, bookmakers were facing a £50 million payout. But Annie Power took a dramatic fall at the final hurdle as thousands of punters looked on aghast. 

Four years later, Bryony Frost made Cheltenham Festival history of a more positive kind when becoming the first woman to win a Grade 1 over jumps at the Cheltenham Festival, driving home the popular Frodon for a thrilling success in the Ryanair Chase.

But for sheer skill in the saddle, many people’s vote for the greatest ride in Cheltenham Festival history would be Tony McCoy’s unlikely victory on Wichita Lineman in the William Hill Trophy Handicap in 2009. The pair looked well beaten at the last, with McCoy hard at work after a series jumping errors from his mount. But Wichita Lineman, under the determined urging of a jockey who was just not prepared to quit, delivered an irresistible surge up the hill to snatch victory in the dying strides.