This week we are going to take a look at 10 National Hunt jockeys who are very much worth keeping in your sights when assessing the Cheltenham Festival and beyond. They are all riding at the very top of their profession, have a terrific strike rate and astute punters will be looking to keep them on side when considering a wager.
- Jonjo O’Neill Jnr – This 22-year-old has been something of a revelation since he started riding under Rules a few years ago. He mainly rides out for his father Jonjo O’Neill (who was a dual champion jockey himself riding 900 career winners) and has really impressed shrewd judges with the way he rides, reminding me very much of John Francome, (brilliant over a fence, an exceptional judge of pace while being very strong at the finish). The young rider has increasingly become popular with a large number of trainers, not just for father Jonjo, and is probably being lined up to take over riding all of the J.P. McManus horses further down the line now that Barry Geraghty has retired.
- Jack Tudor – This 19-year-old has been a revelation in the last couple of seasons. He is currently under the tutelage of Christian Williams in Wales but has also attracted the attention of several of big yards in the game. Jack has had a few rides for Nicky Henderson this season (including a couple of the Queen’s horses) and is an extremely promising jockey who is not going to be allowed to claim his allowance for much longer (already down to 3lb’s which is likely to go in the next few months). He is one to look out for in some of the Cheltenham handicaps, where outside stables are going to be very keen to use his talents.
- Tom Cannon – This jockey is really underrated and underused considering his talent. He is particularly brilliant from the front and has teamed up successfully with the red-hot Chris Gordon team this season. Cannon has ridden some really nice younger horses and is very much a jockey to look out for in the Cheltenham handicaps (where he is likely to be on some lively outsiders at bigger prices).
- Gavin Sheehan – Sheehan has returned from a serious injury which saw him miss several months of the winter but has returned better than ever and has started to pick up rides with all of his usual contacts. He is popular particularly with Venetia Williams amongst others and is superb from the front over hurdles or fences.
- Aidan Coleman – Coleman has only ridden 2 previous festival winners from 53 runners over the last five years, but he is currently booked to ride a number of the J.P. McManus horses at the 2021 meeting. Most notably, ‘Epatante’ who is likely to start a short-priced favorite for the Champion Hurdle. Coleman cut his teeth with Venetia Williams and is an extremely patient jockey which is very useful in the huge fields at Cheltenham, so he is extremely likely to improve on his modest statistics so far.
- Jack Kennedy – Over in Ireland, Kennedy is best known for being favoured by Gordon Elliott and is the confirmed stable jockey for the yard. He is sure to have a terrific book of rides over the four days at the festival (with Davy Russell sadly ruled out through injury). His best ride of the week is likely to be ‘Envoi Allen’ in the Marsh Novices Chase and at the moment he looks sure to start a very short-priced banker for that race (with the opposition largely scared off).
- Bryony Frost – The 25-year-old jockey is tied in with the Neil King stable who have had a very quiet time of things in recent months. Bryony also picks up rides for Paul Nicholls, and she was seen to brilliant effect when winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day on the prolific frontrunner ‘Frodon’. This horse is also likely to feature at the festival and has a fantastic Cheltenham record. Bryony is an exceptional judge over a fence or a hurdle particularly from the front. She has suffered a little controversy this season, but it shouldn’t overshadow the fact that she is certainly one to follow.
- Harry Skelton – Harry is best known for riding his brother Dan’s horses to great success. They have enjoyed a fantastic season this time around and have some live candidates for the Cheltenham Festival with ‘Allmankind’ ‘Shan Blue’ and one or two other very promising novice chasers. The duo have a terrific record in the County Hurdle over the years, and plenty of punters will remember ‘Ch’Tibello’ memorably in that race a couple of years ago. Harry has vastly improved this season and has already ridden four festival winners from 49 runners in the last five years. He was brilliant from the front winning the Champion Chase in 2020 on Paul Nicholls’ ‘Politologue’, making all the running and jumping his rivals into the ground. It is quite likely he will be back to ride that old warrior again in the Champion Chase.
- Paul Townend – Willie Mullins’ main stable jockey, he is one of the winning-most jockeys at the festival in the last five years (with 11 winners under his belt). He is going to have a fantastic book of rides over the four days and will largely have the pick of Rich Ricci horses. The Gold Cup favorite ‘Al Boum Photo’ is another top ride, who bids for a Cheltenham Gold Cup hattrick on the Friday. This 30-year-old jockey is riding at the very top of his game and is currently the odds-on favorite to be the top festival jockey.
- Rachael Blackmore – Blackmore comes from Killenaule in County Tipperary and rode her first winner as an amateur jockey on 10 February 2011. She was the champion conditional in Ireland in her early days and is one of the most reliable riders in the weighing room (combining terrific horsemanship with amazing strength in a finish). Rachael is associated with the Henry de Bromhead stable and is sure to have some terrific rides booked over the four days.
The seasoned punter will know that no two jockeys are the same, and each has his/her own particular riding style and characteristics whether riding on the flat or over jumps. As with studying the horse form itself, it is hugely beneficial to take a look at strike rate for both stables and jockeys alike to increase your chances of a profitable season ahead.