Cheltenham Festival Top Jockeys
The Cheltenham Festival features some of the most prestigious races in National Hunt racing, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Queen Mother Champion Chase. It is normal for jockeys to contest more than one race, and at the end of the festival the jockey with the most race wins is voted the top jockey.
Over the years the Cheltenham Festival has evolved into something of an unofficial England versus Ireland horse racing championship. Over recent years there is little doubt that Irish jockeys have had the best of their English counterparts and the lists of Cheltenham Festival top jockeys is loaded with stars of Irish horse racing.
In the last two decades a handful of jockeys have dominated the Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey standings. The first jockey to defend the Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey title was English jockey Peter Scudamore who achieved two wins each at the 1986 and 1987 Cheltenham Festivals.
Another English jockey who made his mark during this period was Charlie Swan who repeated Scudamore’s accomplishment in 1993 and 1994. This was perhaps the last great performance by an English jockey at the Cheltenham Festival as Swan won an impressive seven races in two years of competition.
From 1996 onwards Irish-born jockeys began to dominate the event. In 1997 and 1998 the legendary Tony McCoy became the first Irish jockey to win back-to-back Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey titles. He did so by claiming three race victories in the 1997 event followed by an incredible five victories in the 1998 Cheltenham Festival.
The late 1990s and the early part of the millennium saw the Irish grip on the Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey honours become virtually unbreakable. Apart from Richard Johnson’s title in 2002, the veteran Irish jockeys passed the title amongst themselves, before handing it to the rookies including the likes of Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty.
In 2007 Robert Thornton became only the second English jockey to win the Cheltenham Festival Champion Jockey title in nearly a decade, taking four wins at that year’s event. To date Tony McCoy remains the most successful jockey in the history of the festival with 15 wins. Mick Fitzgerald comes in at second place with 12 wins, with Richard Johnson representing England in third place with 11 wins in Cheltenham Festival races.