ONE look at the list of top jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival over recent years shows it really is a two-horse (man) race.
And when the action starts on Tuesday the one sure-fire winner is that either Ruby Walsh – a winner of top jockey on six occasions in the past decade – and Barry Geraghty, last year’s main man, will again come out on top.
Walsh is backed by the powerhouse stables of Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins. And he will be riding the likes of Hurricane Fly, Quevega, Silviniaco Conti, Pont Alexandre and Far West among a host of runners with chances of success.
While Geraghty can call on the battalions from Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows stable. Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth, Simonsig and Oscar Whisky head a big team as Geraghty looks for his third title.
But the bookmakers know this and make Geraghty just favourite at a measly 5-4 (Ladbrokes, Stan James, Paddy Power, Boylesports). Walsh is only marginally bigger at 6-4 with almost all firms and the Irish jockey is probably the most likely to wrestle back his title for a magnificent seventh time.
But in the market without the big two Jason Maguire makes plenty of appeal at a tasty 7-1 with Blue Square.
Outside of Henderson, Nicholls and Mullins, the burgeoning stable of Donald McCain has the most powerful team and Maguire, as stable jockey, will have plenty to get on the scoreboard.
He also could pick up a few decent rides for other trainers with long-standing associations with Irish handler Gordon Elliott and Kim Bailey.
Maguire could conceivably have three winners on the board when the eagerly-awaited Festival begins on Tuesday.
Cinders And Ashes has a decent chance of at least making the frame in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, despite poor form in heavy conditions.
He won on the opening day last year and the better ground and return to Prestbury Park will see him go close again.
Overturn, second in last year’s Champion Hurdle, can deny short-priced favourite Simonsig in the Racing Post Arkle Chase.
A big-race winner on the Flat and over hurdles, McCain’s admirable front-runner looks sure to make a bold bid to add victory over the bigger obstacles too.
Our Mick – another Cheltenham winner from last year – Son of Flicka and Peddlers Cross, in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, are all possible winners or at the very least capable of making the frame for McCain and Maguire. While Diamond King – hugely impressive on his last start – is a big player in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper on Wednesday.
Obviously all of them won’t win but enough should to make Maguire best of the rest and provide a winning bet.