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Whilst fans of UK National Hunt racing can get their fix almost year-round these days, for many the season still boils down to just four days. Those four days come at Cheltenham racecourse in March at the magnificent Cheltenham Festival. It is here more than anywhere else where the most talented runners in the game lock horns at championship level, with the winners etching their names indelibly into the history books.
It’s not all about the horses at the Cheltenham Festival though; there’s also a strong human element which goes into determining who comes out on top at the biggest equine show on turf. From the trainers who bring their charges to the boil at just the right moment, to the brave jockeys who negotiate those stiff fences and the formidable Cheltenham hill; achieving a winner at the festival is very much a team effort.
History has shown us that certain trainers and jockeys come into their own at Prestbury Park, at this meeting where success is coveted more than any other. Tracking how the top handlers and riders fare – in what is always a hard-fought battle between the home team and the Irish raiders – is just another of the strands which makes Cheltenham such a compelling spectacle. As ever one way in which to spice up this aspect, just a little more, comes through the betting markets for both the best jockey and the best trainer of the meeting. Something which we take a closer look at here.
It takes a special kind of jockey to consistently prevail in the white-hot heat of battle at the Cheltenham Festival. Skill, judge of pace, strength and determination being just a few of the necessary attributes required to succeed. Qualities which some seemingly possess in greater measure than others. But who will finish atop the jockey’s pile at the end of the four days? That’s where the Cheltenham Festival top jockey betting market comes in.
A bet on a rider to finish as the top Cheltenham Festival jockey is quite simply a bet on who will ride the most winners over the course of the four days. Should two or more jockeys tie in terms of number of winners, the second placed finishes total will then be brought into play in order to determine the winner.
The race for the top riders’ crown was indeed a close run thing in 2018, with both Davy Russell and fellow Irishman Jack Kennedy – two men to note once again in 2019 – finishing on four wins. Russell taking the prize by virtue of a higher total of second place finishes.
Looking ahead to the 2019 Festival it will most likely be the name of the prolific Cheltenham Festival winner, Ruby Walsh, which tops the list for most punters. Backed by the powerful yard of Willie Mullins, Walsh will likely have a book of rides for the festival which is high in both quantity and quality. A broken leg sustained at the meeting curtailed his chances of the prize in 2018, and he will surely be eager to bounce back this time around. This title has fallen to Walsh 11 times in the past 15 years.
To stand a chance of being crowned the top rider at the end of the week, a jockey really needs not only considerable ability, but also the backing of a top owner or trainer. As such, one of the men most likely to at least give Walsh a good run for his money is the ultra-reliable Barry Geraghty. The number one rider for powerful owner JP McManus – whose runners are easily identified by those famous green and gold silks – Geraghty is the second most successful rider in the history of the meeting and a two-time winner of this award. Likely to have major chances in all the Championship races, he rates a big threat to all.
Determined in exactly the same manner as that of the top jockey, i.e. most winners, followed by most seconds and so on, the top trainer market is always one of the big talking and betting points of the week. Regularly going down to the very last race of the meeting, the contest between the top handlers in the game adds yet more excitement to what is already a pulsating meeting.
The battle to be named the top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 was a real thriller between the two Irish giants of Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins. The former ultimately coming out on top with eight wins to seven for Mullins.
Having now taken the prize in each of the past two seasons it will be Gordon Elliott who is once again many people’s idea of the winner this time around. Backed by the might of the Gigginstown House Stud operation, Elliott has risen to be one of the true giants of the training game in the past couple of seasons. He will bring strength in numbers, and may well be tough to stop.
Don’t write off Willie Mullins though. Five times the top trainer at the festival, the County Carlow handler may not be quite the all-conquering power he was just a couple of seasons ago, but still boasts one of the strongest and deepest National Hunt strings in the game.
And what of the British challenge? As ever this seems most likely to come from perennial rivals, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls. Nicholls boasts the better record overall with six top trainer titles to two for Henderson, but it may be Henderson who boasts the stronger claims this time around. In terms of numbers of winners overall, it is Henderson who tops the all-time table here and he once again looks set to be strong across the board, from the handicappers to the genuine Grade 1 performers.
The 2019 Cheltenham Festival may seem a little way off, but it will soon be upon us. The make-up of the final fields in terms of the runners – and those all-important jockeys and trainers – is only in its infancy just now, but readers will find all this information – together with numerous other Cheltenham Festival articles – just as soon as it becomes available on sites like Cheltenham Betting Guide or the official site of the Festival.
We all love a bet on the Cheltenham Festival, and whilst we certainly wouldn’t put anyone off the thrill of backing their selections to win their individual races, there can nevertheless be excellent value to be found in the top jockey and trainer markets.
For those seeking a bet which grants an interest in just about every race over the course of the four days of action – all for a single stake – there are few better options than a wager on the top jockey or top trainer of the meeting. So weigh up those runners and riders just as soon as they become available, assess who you believe boasts the strongest claims in 2019 and buy into the excitement of the race to be crowned kings of the Cheltenham Hill.
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