For four days in the spring, Prestbury Park is the epicentre of the sporting world, putting racing front and centre like no other event.
Unmatched sporting theatre takes place on the famous Cotswolds turf and history records those that succeed here favourably. Here’s a look at the Top 5 Most Successful Jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival through the years.
Ruby Walsh – Festival Winners: 59
Ruby Walsh was crowned leading rider at The Festival on no less than 11 occasions. The Irish pilot was, at one stage, retained rider for Britain’s champion trainer Paul Nicholls and Ireland’s kingpin Willie Mullins at the same time – the pair happy to share his brilliance.
Walsh’s first win at The Festival came in 1998 on the back of Alexander Banquet as an amateur. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the Nicholls-trained Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009, the Champion Hurdle on four occasions for Mullins (Hurricane Fly (2011, 2013), Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016)) and the Champion Chase three times on the Paul Nicholls-trained pair Azertyuiop (2004) and Master Minded (2008, 2009).
He also won four Stayers’ Hurdles on the mighty Big Buck’s for Nicholls, while he partnered the great mare Quevega to six Festival wins in the Mares’ Hurdles – matching the feat of Golden Miller for successes at the meeting.
His last Cheltenham Festival winner came courtesy of Klassical Dream, again trained by Willie Mullins, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2019, just a couple of months before he shocked the racing world with an immediate retirement after landing the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy at his home track.
Barry Geraghty – Festival winners: 43
Barry Geraghty was twice leading rider at the meeting (2003, 2012), with his first Festival winner having come on board Moscow Flyer in the 2002 Arkle.
He would go on to win a pair of Queen Mother Champion Chase crowns on Jessica Harrington’s magnificent chaser, while his tally of five wins in that two-mile Championship contest ties the all-time record.
Quite remarkably, Geraghty rode a Cheltenham Festival winner every year from 2002 until 2017 – with injury forcing him to sit that year out. His alliance with Nicky Henderson was strong, the pair grabbing Gold Cup glory in 2013 with Bobs Worth – Geraghty’s second Blue Riband win after Kicking King in ’05.
He also won a record number of Arkles (four, tied) and Triumph Hurdles (five) at Cheltenham and having become retained rider to top owner JP McManus, he signed off his Cheltenham Festival career with five winners in the famous green and gold hoops at the 2020 Festival.
Sir Anthony McCoy – Festival Winners: 31
Crowned champion jockey in Britain on all of his 20 seasons, AP McCoy’s dominance wasn’t quite as pronounced at the Cheltenham Festival but he still recorded a fine tally.
His first Cheltenham Festival success came on Kibreet in the 1996 Grand Annual and his last came in the 2015 Ryanair aboard Uxizandre, when he delivered an awesome, bold front-running success to record an emotional victory having already confirmed he would be retiring at season’s end.
He was twice crowned leading rider at The Festival and won three Champion Hurdles – Make A Stand (1997), Brave Inca (2006) and Binocular (2010) – a Champion Chase aboard Edredon Bleu in 2000 and a pair of Gold Cups – Mr Mulligan (1997) and Synchronized in 2012 for his boss JP McManus and long-time ally Jonjo O’Neill.
Amongst all the glorious moments and big-race wins, it was perhaps the manner in which he roused Wichita Lineman to snatch victory in the 2009 Festival Plate in the dying strides that came to define McCoy in the saddle.
Pat Taaffe – Festival winners: 25
Pat Taaffe was the man on board when the great Arkle won his three Cheltenham Gold Cup (1964, 1965 and 1966) and his association with that racing great ensures a place in racing’s history books forever.
Taaffe was a nine-time Irish champion jockey and his record tally of four Gold Cup wins stands tall to this day. He was also on board five Queen Mother Champion Chase winners – Fortria (1960, 1961), Ben Stack (1964), Flyingbolt (1966) and Straight Fort (1970) – a record tally he shares with compatriot Barry Geraghty.
Taaffe’s achievements in the Cotswolds are immense and they, of course, came long before the four-day Cheltenham Festivals of the modern era.
Davy Russell – Festival winners: 25
Like Geraghty, Cork native Davy Russell strung together a remarkable sequence of annual success in the Cotswolds. He steered Native Jack to win the Cross Country in 2006 – his maiden Festival success – and would ride a winner at every Festival thereafter until 2019; quite some feat.
He was the man on board when Tiger Roll started his Festival odyssey in the 2014 Triumph Hurdle and that indeed would kick-start the best afternoon of Russell’s career at Cheltenham as he later partnered Lord Windermere to win a remarkable Gold Cup for trainer Jim Culloty – a name synonymous with the great race.
Lord Windermere was out the back of the field and seemed to be struggling at various stages but gifted horseman Russell managed to hunt around and stay in the game before they powered up the Cheltenham Hill to deny On His Own by a short-head in a thriller.