An award once dominated by the great Ruby Walsh, who won the accolade an amazing 11 times 14 years between 2004 and 2017, the race for the sought-after Top Jockey trophy has been a more open affair over the last four renewals — with the Irish rider arguably past his peak for his last couple of meetings before retirement in 2019 meant other jockeys finally had their chance to write their names in the record books.
Indeed, there has been a new name added to the star-studded Top Jockey roll of honour at each of the last four editions of the Festival— as none of the modern era riders have been able to take the meeting by the reins quite in same fashion Walsh once did, like when he won the award five times on the trot between 2013 and 2017.
If you’re searching for a Cheltenham bet ahead of this year’s Festival, it’s hard to look beyond Paul Townend in the Top Jockey market. The Irishman took over as Willie Mullins’ number rider in 2020 following the retirement of Walsh, and he has reaped the rewards of being in the saddle of some fantastic horses since. It will be a close contest with the likes of Rachael Blackmore, who rides for Henry de Bromhead, and Gordon Elliott’s number one jockey Davy Russell though!
So, with the Top Jockey award set to be a thrilling side story to another fantastic renewal of the Festival, let’s set the tone by taking a look back at the last four winners of the prestigious personal accolade. Read on to find out more!
2021: Rachael Blackmore (6 victories)
Almost one year on, there are no superlatives left to describe Blackmore’s surreal Festival that haven’t already been used. With six winning rides across the four days, the 32-year-old became the first female jockey to win the personal award and fell just one short of Walsh’s record of seven.
Her biggest win of the week came aboard Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, with other Grade 1 victories coming in the Triumph Hurdle (Quilixios), Ryanair Chase (Allaho), Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Bob Olinger) and Champion Bumper (Sir Gerhard). Telmesomethinggirl’striumph in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle was her only win outside the top bracket.
2020: Paul Townend (5 victories)
Last year’s meeting must have been a disappointing one for Townend, picking up just three wins as Blackmore stole all the headlines over the course of the week. The 31-year-old became something of a forgotten man during the Festival, with just two Grade 1 winning rides as even the young Jack Kennedy stole his limelight by winning the Gold Cup as a 21-year-old.
He’ll be keen to put that right this year, and he certainly can do so given his impressive book of rides. We’re sure he’ll be using his 2020 Top Jockey trophy as inspiration as well — winning the Champion Bumper (Ferny Hollow), the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Monkfish), the Triumph Hurdle (Burning Victory), the Ryanair Chase (Min) and the Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo for the second time.
2019: Nico de Boinville (3 victories)
The first English rider to win the Top Jockey award since Robert Thornton’s victory in 2007, Nico de Boinville didn’t exactly blow away his opposition en route to glory in 2019 — picking up just three victories along the way. He’ll have his fair share of opportunities again this year though, with the likes of Shishkinand Constitution Hill favoured in the Arkle and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
It may not be the biggest haul, but victories aboard William Henry in the Grade 3 Coral Cup, Pentland Hills in the Triumph Hurdle and most notably Altiorin the Queen Mother Champion Chase were enough to see the 32-year-old take home the award ahead of a whole host of jockeys who were stuck on two.
2018: Davy Russell (4 victories)
Little did we know it at the time, but Davy Russell’s victory in 2018 would be the be-all and end-all of Walsh dominating the Top Jockey award. Russell, who boasts more victories at the Festival than other active jockey (25), rode his first winner in 2006, but it would be 12 years until he got his hands on the trophy — with Presenting Percy (RSA Novices’ Chase), Balko Des Flos(Ryanair Chase), Delta Work (Pertemps Final) and The Storyteller (Paddy Power Plate) helping him over the line.
After missing out last year due to a serious neck injury sustained from a fall earlier in the season, Russell will be hoping to extend his long list of winners and he has a great chance of victory with Galvin in the showpiece race — according to the Gold Cup Day tips.