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HORSE RACING

Cheltenham 2022 Betting: Why the Jockey Matters

One of the UK’s biggest sports events is just around the corner, with the four-day Cheltenham Festival getting underway on March 15th. It features 28 national hunt races, around half of which are the highest class Grade 1 contests. The festival has become a huge deal for British (and Irish) punters, now eclipsing the Grand National as the event where everyone has a bet. 

But from a bettors’ perspective, we wanted to have a look at one of the most important elements in making a horse racing selection – the identity of the jockey. Cheltenham, perhaps more than most festivals, makes particular demands of jockeys, and their decisions when in the saddle can be crucial to the success of your bet, regardless of the talent of the horse underneath them.

Of course, we can say that all types of horse racing. On the flat, jockeys must make split-second decisions that impact the outcome of the race. If you want proof, just look back at the fabled Magnificent Seven from Frankie Dettori at Ascot in 1996. Going through the card to land seven consecutive winners, it was a masterclass in how to handle horses in elite races. The feat is still talked about today and is celebrated in the popular sports-themed slot, Frankie Dettori Magic Seven by Playtech. The accumulative odds that day were over 25,000-1, so it’s understandable it’s seen as one of the greatest performances of any jockey in history. 

Cheltenham tests a jockey’s skills

But while Dettori’s magnificence 25 years ago showed that jockeys aren’t just passengers (as if there was any doubt), Cheltenham requires a different type of skillset. National hunt jockeys take different kinds of risks – after all, they have to jump hurdles and fences – but there is also a different kind of, let’s say, horse management to carry out. 

For a start, some of Cheltenham’s races can be well over 3 miles, and the question of stamina and using the horse’s resources to good effect is required. Ruby Walsh, the now-retired Irish jockey, was a master at this, seemingly having a sixth sense of when to keep his mount back and when to move up the gears. Walsh, who retired in 2018, holds the record for wins at the Cheltenham Festival, and one of the reasons for that was his ability to turn it on at the right point. 

You’ll often see inexperienced jockeys failing at that, leaving their horses spent of energy by the final few furlongs. Again, this is particularly important at Cheltenham because it is famous for its gruelling uphill finish. In those three-mile plus races, it can be devastating as a punter to see your horse struggle up the hill, then eventually be passed by a runner who has more reverse. 

Falls stats can help the bettor

The fences also matter at Cheltenham, of course. They aren’t as high as those fabled obstacles at Aintree, but they can catch out plenty of horses, particularly those ridden by inexperienced jockeys. The best jockeys can fall, for sure, and it happens a lot at Cheltenham, but it’s worth checking out the jockey’s stats for falls before you bet. 

For Cheltenham 2022, then, you’ll want to keep an eye on certain jockeys. Rachael Blackmore will be top of most people’s lists as she won the Top Jockey Award last year. She is a special talent, but we might suggest that she is somewhat aggressive at times, and that can cost her dearly (Blackmore is prone to being unseated from time to time). In contrast, Paul Townend, who leads the betting markets to be this year’s top jockey, has been accused of being too conservative, not taking as many risks as someone like Blackmore. 

Both Blackmore and Townend are brilliant, and their clash of styles is just something more for bettors to chew on. But if we were to recommend a jockey to follow at this year’s event, it would be Nico de Boinville. He won’t have as many top rides booked as Blackmore and Townend, but he has the perfect skillset for Cheltenham. Watch how he handles Shishkin in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on March 16th, where he will be taking on both Townend and Blakmore in the feature race. He arguably has the right balance between Blackmore’s aggression and Townend’s conservatism, and it could mean he lands the spoils in one of the most highly-anticipated races of the festival. 

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