The weeks/days leading up to the Cheltenham Festival is always a nervous time for the top national hunt jockeys in both Britain and Ireland. With injury being an occupational hazard for those brave enough to jump a fence on a regular basis no one can take it for granted that they will arrive at the sport’s biggest occasion in one piece, a situation all too familiar for leading Irish rider Barry Geraghty who will be watching the four-day extravaganza from his armchair after suffering a collapsed lung and six broken ribs following a fall from Charli Parcs in a hurdle race at Kempton on Saturday afternoon.
The 37-year-old Geraghty was as short as 7-4 to take top riding honours at Prestbury Park in just over two weeks time, with the retained jockey to the powerful owner JP McManus booked to partner a host of strongly fancied contenders including Stan James Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D’Air and Unowhatimeanharry, as short as 11-10 to lift the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday 16th March.
While Mark Walsh, number two in the McManus pecking order, is sure to have a strong book of rides for his boss some of the owner’s leading contenders may prove to be fortunate spare rides for several of the top British riders, notably Noel Fehily, Richard Johnson and Aidan Coleman. The current champion jockey, in the shadow of Sir Anthony McCoy for so many years, could once again partner Defi Du Seuil, hot favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, as he steered the Philip Hobbs-trained gelding to Grade 1 victory at Chepstow on December 27th.
The mount on Buveur D’Air is likely to go to either Aidan Coleman or Noel Fehily. The latter rode the horse in his first six races since joining trainer Nicky Henderson but Coleman took over when the son of Crillon was switched to fences, recording wins at Haydock and Warwick. The ride on Unowhatimeanharry looks more straightforward as Fehily is four from four on the gelding prior to Geraghty taking over this season. Who ends up partnering Champion Hurdle second favourite Yanworth is more complicated as apart from Geraghty the only other jockey to have ridden the seven-year-old is retired champion AP McCoy.
As far as the revised Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey betting is concerned Ruby Walsh has hardened into a best price 4-6 with Betway, followed by Gigginstown’s Bryan Cooper ( 12-1 Bet365 and Stan James ), Aidan Coleman ( 14-1 Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and Coral ), Noel Fehily ( 14-1 William Hill ) and Richard Johnson ( 16-1 with Bet365 ).