For those who love seeing the biggest names in horse racing participating at the Cheltenham Festival, it would have come as a blow to see the news that Davy Russell will not be riding at the famous meeting this year.
Russell suffered serious back injuries in Limerick back in October, which have taken a long time to recover from, and although he returned to the saddle in January and would have been among the favourites in the Cheltenham betting with Betfair, the jockey has decided that the Festival would be too much, too soon.
“To ride horses of the calibre of Envoi Allen you have to be 100 percent fit, and I would be doing the team a disservice to ride when I’m not ready. Obviously, it is hugely disappointing, but it is important to make the call early,” Russell said.
“I will continue to work hard on my recovery and look forward to getting back in the saddle the following month.”
Many will remember with fondness Russell’s triumph in the 2014 Gold Cup on board Lord Windermere, and last year was a very successful year for him too, with eight placings in total. Among those were three victories – in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, The Marsh Novices’ Chase and the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase respectively. This year, however, fans of horse racing will have to focus on the plethora of other talented jockeys that will be taking part in the Cheltenham Festival.
It’s every jockey’s dream to be successful at Cheltenham, and last year Paul Townend enjoyed a fine Festival, which included three wins on day four of the meeting. Of course, the crowning moment was Townend’s victory in the Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo – the pair’s second successive triumph in the showpiece race.
This year, Townend will be gearing up for another successful year. He is one of trainer Willie Mullins’ most valued riders, and you can bet that Townend will be donning the silks to try and steer many of the Irish trainer’s top contenders to glory.
Reigning Champion Jockey Brian Hughes will be keen to enjoy a more successful Cheltenham Festival than last year. Hughes is relentless in the number of races he takes parts in, and as a result he is the current top jockey for the 2020-21 season. But despite looking set for another Champion Jockey crown, Hughes will want to earn a couple of big wins at Cheltenham to cement his status in the sport.
While Hughes leads the Champion Jockey standings in terms of the number of wins he has achieved, Harry Skelton is also enjoying a fine campaign, and posts a better win percentage than Hughes. Last year’s Champion Chase proved to be a fine moment for Skelton at Cheltenham, as he rode Politologue to victory. He’ll be hoping to add to his haul of Cheltenham wins, and trainer Dan Skelton will trust his brother to deliver the goods for many of his star contenders.
From one Harry to another, and Harry Cobden will be hoping to go one better this year, having finished second to namesake Skelton in the Champion Chase last year. Cobden couldn’t quite earn a Cheltenham win in 2020, but this year’s Festival offers another chance, and there’s every chance he could deliver a winner for Paul Nicholls in the Cheltenham Festival racecards.
Another one to watch out for is Rachael Blackmore, who enjoys a good relationship with trainer Henry de Bromhead. Blackmore won the Mares’ Hurdle last year with Honeysuckle, and this year the in-form mare offers her a great chance of landing a big one in the Champion Hurdle. Blackmore undoubtedly has the talent to win multiple races at this year’s Festival, but her sights will be set on that day one showpiece.