The ‘Top Jockey’ betting at the Cheltenham Festival is another interesting market that punters like to get stuck into and whereas we’ll know the outcome of bets placed on each of the 28 Festival contests minutes after the race – the top jockey market will span across all four days, giving much better value for money and could even go down to the last race – the Grand Annual!
In recent year’s Ruby Walsh has dominated this market – riding the most winners over the four days a staggering 9 times in the last 10 seasons, including 12 months ago in 2017, while in total the ‘silver fox’ pilot has collected the Cheltenham Top Jockey award 11 times.
Ruby’s association with the powerful Willie Mullins team, that fired in another six Festival winners in 2017, makes him the clear favourite again in the 2018 Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey betting market.
However, whereas he’s been unbackable prices in recent years, the betting suggests Ruby’s got some stern competition this year.
Having said that, Ruby is still odds-on in the betting (before the first) race at around 1.80, but, trust me, that is a much bigger price than he’s been in recent years!
This had been a bit of a non-event market over the last 10 years, but with the betting on the Top Trainer as tight as ever between Mullins, Elliott, and Henderson then this is also reflected in the top jockey’s market.
Let’s not forget, Ruby has also been out injured for most of the 2017/18 season, but his fans will be delighted to know he’s fit and raring to go for when the tapes go up on Tuesday 13th March.
Those looking to take him in this market will, of course, cling to the fact he heads here with no match practice, but – come on – he’ll have been riding out plenty on the gallops and have done plenty of work in the gym. With 56 Festival winners under his belt then I know who I’d rather have on a horse I’ve backed – even if he’s been out of action for a while.
He’s still one of the best in the business and one of the best ever (in my opinion).
Yes, to date, Ruby has ridden 56 Cheltenham Festival winners, so with just four more to hit the magic 60 mark, this will surely be a firm target for him over the four days.
The Silver Fox will once again have the pick of all the main Mullins horses – ones like Min, Un de Scueax, Laurina & Getabird – while he’ll also get the leg-up on plenty of spares if Mullins doesn’t have runners in the race.
However, unlike recent years, Mullins doesn’t seem to have bundles of ‘hot-pots’ for Ruby to mop-up wins. Gordon Elliott has the likes of Samcro and Apple’s Jade, while let us not forget Nicky Henderson has the favourite in three of the four main championship races each day!
So, can anyone prevent Ruby from winning a 12th Top Jockey Title?
Barry Geraghty, who missed the 2017 Festival, is back and with the pick of the JP McManus-owned runners in his armoury then he’ll be a popular alternative to Walsh. Geraghty has been top Cheltenham Festival jockey twice before – 2003 and 2012 – while with Buveur D’Air looking a huge banker on day one then Geraghty has a great chance of getting his supporters off the mark early. He’s around 6.00 in the betting and generally second favourite behind Walsh.
Paul Townend has been deputising for the injured Ruby Walsh on the Mullins runners for much of the season so you have to feel a bit sorry for him. However, he’s still sure to pick up a lot of rides for Mullins and despite getting the first pick on stable rides, these top jockeys don’t always get it right. It would be a shock if Townend isn’t riding winners at the 2018 Festival – he rode Penhill and Arctic Fire at the Festival in 2017 – but he’s unlikely to be troubling Walsh.
Noel Fehily is another option. This likeable jockey recorded wins on Special Tiara and Buveur D’Air last year and is always in high demand. He’s already been booked to ride Our Duke by the Jessie Harrington team, while it was interesting he fly out to Ireland to ride Monalee last time in the Flogas Novices’ Chase so could keep that ride in the RSA Chase.
Of the rest, top Irish jockey Jack Kennedy, who will ride the main Gigginstown Stud horses, is interesting with such a large number of decent horses to pick from. Plus, with the Gordon Elliott camp firing in six winners at the Festival in 2017 then we can expect him to be riding a lot of theirs again. Samcro and Apple’s Jade are big Gigginstown fancies and rarely a Festival goes by these days without these powerful owners being on the scoresheet.
Davy Russell still also has a strong link to the Gigginstown-owned horses, so it would be a shock if he’s not in the winners’ enclosure at least once over the four days too – in 2017 Gigginstown sent out 4 of the 28 winners. Kennedy is around 7.00 in the betting, and the third favourite behind Walsh, while Russell is around 11.00.
Robbie Power is another interesting contender against Ruby Walsh. He rode three winners at the 2017 Festival, including the Gold Cup winner – Sizing John. He’s got a strong association with top Irish trainer – Jessie Harrington – while Sizing John and Supasundae, who is the current favourite for Thursday’s Stayers’ Hurdle, will once again big names he’ll be getting the leg-up on
With the festival over four days then it really is numbers game, and without stating the obvious a mixture of 2 or 3 bankers in your locker, plus rides in almost all the available races (don’t forget there are a few amateur or conditional races) is the perfect mix to being the top jock at Cheltenham.
Aidan Coleman might be a better outsider – he’s likely to get the leg-up on a lot of the Jonjo O’Neill and Venetia Williams horses, but it would still be a shock if he’s outscoring the main Irish jockeys.
Nico de Boinville is certainly worth a mention too – he will, of course, have a big chance with Altior in the Champion Chase on Wednesday and also rides Might Bite, who is the current Gold Cup favourite. Both were winners for Nico at the 2017 Festival, but with his continued association with the powerful Nicky Henderson team then at around 13.00 in the betting then he’s surely got to be the value alternative if you are looking to take Walsh on.
The British champion jockey – Richard Johnson – is another that is sure to get on the scoresheet, but a bit like Twiston-Davies he’s bound to have plenty of rides, but with no real bankers then he might be scrapping around a bit, and even at a double-figure price it’s hard to get too excited.
So, yes, there are a few cases to be made for taking on Ruby Walsh, with Noel Fehily, Davy Russell, Jack Kennedy, Robbie Power and Nico de Boinville looking the best alternatives, but really it’s hard to get away from the ‘Silver Fox’.
Okay, this year the Mullins camp might not have as many so-called ‘bankers’ as in previous years, so you suspect Ruby might have to work a bit hard for title number 12, but he’s still the safest option in what’s set to be another fascinating Cheltenham Festival.
Finally, the last thing to note when it comes to this market is don’t forget that seconds, thirds and even fourth-placed finishes can help land a jockey this prize. In the event of a tie (winners) then the number of seconds, and then thirds will be taken into account!
Best Bet: RUBY WALSH
Dangers: Nico de Boinville & Jack Kennedy