Nicky Henderson

Formerly assistant to eight-time champion trainer Fred Winter, Nicky Henderson first took out a public training licence in 1978 and, in just over four decades since, has established himself as one of the most successful trainers of the modern era. As far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, in recent years Henderson has been unable to keep tabs on the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, but invariably features in the top two or three in the betting for the leading trainer award.

Indeed, Henderson has won the leading trainer award on nine occasions, most recently in 2012, and his career total of 60 Cheltenham Festival winners puts him in clear second-place, behind only Willie Mullins, in the all-time list. Henderson saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, The Tsarevitch, in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup in 1985 and, in the interim, has won all of the Grade One races run at the March showpiece meeting at least once.

The horse that brought Henderson to the attention of the racing public was the talented, but fragile – not to mention notoriously bad-tempered – See You Then, whom he saddled to win the Champion Hurdle three years running in 1985, 1986 and 1987. Of course, Henderson is by no means a ‘one-trick pony’ and, since moving to Seven Barrows Stables in Lambourn, Berkshire in 1992, has won the Champion Hurdle four more times – with Punjabi in 2009, Binocular in 2010 and Buveur D’Air in 2017 and 2018 – to become the leading trainer in the history of the two-mile hurdling championship.

Henderson is also the leading trainer in the history of the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Triumph Hurdle, having won both races six times and, the Champion Hurdle aside, his record in the three other ‘championship’ races is no less enviable. He has won the Queen Mother Champion Chase five times, including twice with Sprinter Sacre – the third highest-rated steeplechaser since the early Sixties, according to Timeform – the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice and the Stayers’ Hurdle twice.

A.P. McCoy

Sir Anthony Peter ‘A.P.’ McCoy is widely regarded as the greatest National Hunt jockey ever and, as such, requires little further introduction. On his retirement from the saddle in April, 2015, McCoy had ridden 4,348 winners in Britain and Ireland and won the British Jump Jockeys’ Championship every year between 1995/96 and 2014/15. At the Cheltenham Festival, McCoy was leading jockey just twice, in 1997 and 1998, but his career total of 31 winners at the March showpiece meeting places him in third-place on the all-time list, behind just Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty.

McCoy rode his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Kibreet in the Grand Annual Chase, in his first season as a fully-fledged professional, in 1996. The following season he recorded a notable treble, winning the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Champion Hurdle on Or Royal and Make A Stand, both trained by Martin Pipe, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Mr. Mulligan, trained by Noel Chance. In 1998, McCoy partnered another four Martin Pipe-trained winners – namely Champleve in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Unsinkable Boxer in the Pertemps Final, Cyfor Malta in the Cathcart Challenge Cup and Blowing Wind in the County Hurdle – plus Edredon Bleu, trained by Henrietta Knight, in the Grand Annual Chase, to increase his winning tally to five.

With the exceptions of 2001 and 2005, McCoy rode at least one Cheltenham Festival winner every year from 1999 until the end of his riding career in 2015. He never did manage to complete a clean sweep of the four main ‘championship’ races – the Stayers’ Hurdle being a notable omission – but did win the Champion Hurdle twice more, on Brave Inca in 2006 and Binocular in 2010, the Cheltenham Gold Cup once more, on the subsequently ill-fated Synchronised in 2012, and the Queen Mother Champion Chase once, on Edredon Bleu in 2000. Fittingly, his final Cheltenham Festival winner, Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase in 2015, was owned by John Patrick ‘J.P.’ McManus, by whom McCoy had been paid a retainer, rumoured to be up to £1 million a year, for the last decade or so of his career.

Pat Taaffe

The late Pat Taaffe was famously tall, at 6’2”, and famously unstylish in the saddle – at least, according to some observers – but, nonetheless, rode 25 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, which makes him the fourth most successful jockey in the history of the National Hunt extravaganza, behind Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Tony McCoy. Of course, Taaffe is best remembered as the jockey of the legendary Arkle, on whom he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running in 1964, 1965 and 1966. Indeed, at one point, he was described by Observer correspondent Hugh McIlvanney as ‘one of the few horsemen in the world who can look Arkle in the eye without feeling inferior.’ It is fair to say that the part played by Taaffe in establishing the reputation of Arkle as, arguably, the greatest steeplechaser in history, should not be underestimated.

Less well remembered, perhaps, is that fact that Taaffe also rode Arkle to victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 1963, having already won the same race on Coneyburrow in 1953, Solfen in 1960 and Grallagh Cnoc in 1961. He also won on Proud Tarquin in 1970 and remains the leading jockey in the history of the race.

Remarkably, although Taaffe won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle twice, on Stroller in 1954 and Flyingbolt in 1964, his other 23 victories at the Cheltenham Festival all came over the larger obstacles. He won the Queen Mother Champion Chase five times, including two years running, on Fortria, in 1960 and 1961 and, in 1966, on Flyingbolt who, according to Timeform, is the only horse since the early Sixties to be rated within 20lb of Arkle. Two years after partnering Arkle to his third, and final, win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Taaffe won the prestigious steeplechase again on Fort Leney – trained, like Arkle, by Tom Dreaper – to become the leading jockey in the history of the ‘Blue Riband’ event, which he remains to this day.

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