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THE FESTIVAL™ SUPPORTING WELLCHILD

Racing fans are counting down the days to The Festival™ supporting WellChild.

 

But if you think you’re excited, that’s nothing compared to the buzz the sport’s top jockeys will experience between March 16th and 19th.

 

Jump Racing’s ‘Olympics’ attracts the best horses and their trainers to Cheltenham every March, but for every equine superstar there’s a brilliant jockey required to help them pass the post in front.

 

Here, Nick Seddon takes a look at five current riders who can make their presence felt when the curtain rises at The Festival.

 

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Cheltenham Festival winners 2020: 5

Odds to be top jockey in 2021: 2-5

 

Crowned the leading jockey at last year’s Festival, Paul Townend is the first name on everyone’s lips when it comes to riders to watch at this year’s meeting.

 

He’s the retained rider for last year’s top trainer Willie Mullins. Not only is the master of Closutton the most successful trainer in Festival history with 72 winners, he also has a battalion of leading lights this year.

 

One of them, Al Boum Photo, is bidding to become only the second horse this century after Best Mate to win the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup three times and Townend has partnered him for both of his victories in the Blue Riband event. If successful, Townend would become just the sixth jockey to win the Gold Cup three times.

 

The Irishman will be hoping to start his week on a positive note in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, a race which Mullins has won a record six times.

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Cheltenham Festival winners 2020: 0

Odds to be top jockey 2021: 3-1

 

On first glance, it’s something of a shock that Jack Kennedy failed to register a winner at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. But the Irish rider missed the whole of the week last year due to injury and there is no doubt that he is ready to make up for lost time this time around.

 

While Paul Townend’s fortunes are inextricably linked to Willie Mullins’ horses then Kennedy’s winners are likely to come largely from his association with owners Cheveley Park Stud and Gigginstown.

 

With Davy Russell losing his race to be fit in time for The Festival, Kennedy is in line to pick up some plum Festival rides, including two-time Cheltenham hero Envoi Allen, who will bid for Festival win number three in the Marsh Novices’ Chase for new trainer Henry de Bromhead.

 

It’s hard to believe that Kennedy is still only 21 but, with high-profile successes under his belt and a book of top-quality rides in store, it is no surprise to see him trading as one of the favourites to be leading jockey for the week.

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Cheltenham Festival winners 2020: 1

Odds to be top jockey in 2021: 10-1

 

As stable jockey to 62-time Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer Nicky Henderson, it would be folly to ignore the progress of Nico de Boinville.

 

Although he only picked up one winner at last year’s meeting, he was the leading rider at The Festival 12 months earlier and looks well placed to find his way into the winner’s enclosure more regularly in 2021.

 

Henderson’s squad for Cheltenham is a typically strong one and is headlined by a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner in Altior, who will aim for a third win in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Day Two of the meeting.

 

Henderson’s team also contains the likes of the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy favourite Shishkin and last year’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini, meaning de Boinville is likely to be amongst the headlines throughout the week.

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Cheltenham Festival winners 2020: 1

Odds to be top jockey in 2021: 12-1

 

It hasn’t taken Rachael Blackmore long to establish herself as one of the top riders in the weighing room and she arrives at Prestbury Park as one of the best jockeys Ireland has to offer.

 

Having ridden her first two Festival winners in 2019, she added to that tally last year when striking with Honeysuckle in the Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

 

The seven year old will have a fine chance in whichever race her connections choose this time around, whether that’s the same race or the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

 

Blackmore is the stable jockey for Henry de Bromhead, who has trained nine winners at The Festival to date. Quite remarkably, seven of those have come in Grade One races and, along with Honeysuckle, the yard’s main hopes this year include Put The Kettle On (Champion Chase or Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase), A Plus Tard and Minella Indo (both in the Cheltenham Gold Cup).

 

A female jockey has never been crowned leading jockey at The Festival, but you wouldn’t put it past Blackmore to become the first.

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Cheltenham Festival winners 2020: 1

Odds to be top jockey in 2021: 16-1

 

Brothers Dan and Harry Skelton are going from strength to strength with each passing year and they look to have several good chances at The Festival.

 

Jockey Harry enjoyed arguably his finest moment to date when riding Politologue to victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase for Paul Nicholls 12 months ago and he’s enjoyed a fabulous campaign so far this year, riding no fewer than three Grade One winners.

 

Nicholls’ stale jockey Harry Cobden will take over on Politologue at The Festival this year, though that doesn’t mean that Skelton won’t be without a chance in the Champion Chase, and will ride Nube Negra for his trainer brother, Dan.

 

Nube Negra took the notable scalp of Altior when winning the Grade Two Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park in December.

 

Skelton’s rides will also include Grade One winners Roksana, Allmankind and Shan Blue and he seems certain to have a productive week in store.

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