It’ll come as no surprise should Ruby Walsh or Barry Geraghty land the ‘Top Jock’ spot at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
It’s been a tough winter for Willie Mullins and the team, but despite the well documented setbacks, he will head to the Cotswolds with a powerful team, and Ruby will get the leg-up on a host of talented beasts. Geraghty too, will find himself spoilt for choice, as he selects from a plethora of JP McManus contenders. Winners are virtually guaranteed, but value will often be hard to find.
Two jockeys that have found plenty of Festival success in recent years, and that are more likely to give the punter a decent return for his or her hard-earned cash, are Ireland’s Davy Russell, and Gloucestershire’s Tom Scudamore.
The latter is having another solid season, with every chance of making the top five in the Jockeys Championship. He’s spent much of the campaign riding for David Pipe and Colin Tizzard, and is given the enormous responsibility of guiding Thistlecrack to the pinnacle of the chasing division.
For much of the winter, ‘Scu’ has played down the pressure of such a task, and instead highlighted the thrill of being able to partner such a wonderful racehorse. He rode a perfect race at Kempton when capturing the King George, and in fairness did little wrong in defeat at Cheltenham last time. Nevertheless, flying down the hill towards the third last in the Gold Cup is sure to set the heart racing, and his decision making will need to be precise if he is to steer Tizzard’s star to success.
Scudamore landed the World Hurdle on Thistlecrack at last year’s Festival, adding to his win earlier in the week aboard Pipe’s Un Temps Pour Tout. The latter took the Ultima Handicap Chase at odds of 11/1. He also had a couple of third-place finishes during the week, on-board Kings Palace and Champers On Ice at prices of 11/1 and 20/1 respectively.
The Cheltenham Festival of 2015 brought success on Moon Racer and Next Sensation. The latter was an emotional victory on the horse trained by his brother Michael, whilst Moon Racer is a fancied runner for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in March.
In 2014 Scudamore bagged a trio of triumphs when winning on Western Warhorse, Dynaste and Ballynagour. The latter won at 12s whilst Western Warhorse shocked Champagne Fever in the Arkle Chase at 33/1.
Thistlecrack, Moon Racer, Champers On Ice and Starchitect, are just a sample of the exciting rides available to Scudamore at Cheltenham in March, and it looks likely that he will once again be ‘booting-in’ some high profile winners.
Davy Russell is another top-class jockey with Cheltenham Festival pedigree. Losing the top job at Gigginstown to Bryan Cooper could easily have had a hugely damaging effect on a lesser jock. But Russell rolled up his sleeves, and continues to be one of the most sort-after riders in the business.
Always with a full book of rides, he has spent much of the winter flitting between the likes of Gordon Elliott, Henry De Bromhead, and Jess Harrington. He’s had a couple of jaunts over to Prestbury Park during the campaign, and ridden for Rebecca Curtis and Nicky Henderson. He got the leg-up on progressive chaser Shantou Flyer a few weeks back, and may well be in line to maintain the partnership at the Festival.
Last year, wins on Diamond King and Mall Dini at odds of 12s and 14/1 showcased his undoubted talent. He came mighty close to steering Fagan to victory in the Albert Bartlett at 33/1, and was again runner-up on-board Arthur Moore’s Dandridge in the Grand Annual.
In 2015 Russell had a pair of victories on the Wednesday of the meeting, steering home Windsor Park and Rivage D’Or. Both rides were exquisite.
Back in 2014, he had possibly his finest success, when getting up in the shadow of the post to win the Gold Cup aboard Lord Windermere. That victory formed part of a treble on the day, with further success on Savello and Tiger Roll. 20/1, 16/1 and 10s were the generous winning odds.
It’s inevitable that Russell will have the leg-up on a number of fancied Gigginstown contenders. But also expect him to partner his share of Tony Martin handicappers, along with a handful for De Bromhead, Harrington, Curtis and Henderson. He rode William Henry to a second place finish on Cheltenham’s Trials Day, and with the firepower at Seven Barrows disposal looks sure to pick up a number of decent spares.
His skills are in demand, and his ability to guide a horse through traffic, and deliver it at just the right moment, is possibly second to none. If Tony Martin’s Mydor heads over to the Cotswolds, and Russell keeps the ride, I’ll be selling the family heirlooms to ‘lump on’.
Both Russell and Scudamore are jockeys to keep on-side during the ‘Greatest Show’, though plucking those all-important gems from the also-rans, as ever, will prove the toughest task.