Paul Jacobs: Can these jockeys move into the sport’s top tier at Cheltenham?

Our expert tipster runs the rule over the jockeys hoping that the Greatest Show on Turf will be their breakthrough moment…

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Mengli Khan, Tombstone, Apple’s Jade, Tycoon Prince, Dounikos, Blow By Blow and Felix Jesjy are all probable mounts for the rather more than emerging talent that is Jack Kennedy on the first two days of the Cheltenham Festival.

But the majority of those partnerships pale into insignificance compared to his impending ride on the star novice hurdler Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, which kick starts the action on Wednesday afternoon.

Many believe that the unbeaten son of Germany is the sure thing at this year’s festival, the banker, the star attraction, some even say the next Arkle! But, can the boy on top from Co Kerry take the pressure?

Will he have this mountain of a horse in the right place at the right time? Or will he panic and let the occasion get to him with the owners and trainer expecting nothing less than a clear cut victory and millions of hard earned pounds and euros riding on the duo?

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No less a judge than Ted Walsh feels Kennedy was born for the job at the highest level: “I’ve never seen a teenager ride like him. He looks like a seasoned professional.”

A pure horseman he undoubtedly is. Just go on Youtube and watch his amazing recovery on Robin des Mana at Clonmel in December last year and you too will be a convert, if you already aren’t.

His winning ride on shock Supreme Novice Hurdle winner Labaik last year was further evidence of his talent when he guided this ultra-quirky sort to beat Melon in last year’s opener. But can he do it when the focus is firmly pinned on him and Samcro? It’s D-Day for Kennedy, now an integral part of both the Gigginstown team and the Gordon Elliot operation.

We know how the Gigginstown hierarchy can react if all doesn’t go well, just ask Bryan Cooper.  A cool as a cucumber victorious ride will be greeted with the reaction “well he was on the best horse”, but a public spotlight defeat could do untold damage to his confidence.

Jacobs’ verdict: ‘Such a natural horseman, whose judge of pace is impeccable and for such a slight guy, he is a strong boy or should that be man’

This year’s Festival is of course about the horses, but the brave men and women sitting up top are also an integral part of the four-day National Hunt celebration. Daryl Jacob was set for a mighty festival before Top Notch and Sceau Royal were withdrawn from their respective contests and that almost puts more pressure on this fine horseman.

Of course, Cheltenham was the scene of his horrific accident in 2014, when Port Melon launched him into the Prestbury Park turf and last year’s event saw him regularly attend the top table by reaching the frame on several occasions without being able to grab the gold medal.

Now riding for the powerful owners Simon Munir and Isaac Suede, this is the stage he must deliver on and I have no doubt if the horse is good enough he will do the business.

Jacobs’ verdict: ‘I was lucky enough to sit with Daryl on a Cheltenham Festival preview panel and he was both engaging, informative and left me in no doubt he belongs in the top tier. I suspect his confidence was knocked by several sagas including refusing to ride the mighty Big Buck’s and that horrendous Cheltenham fall, but he is a superb rider especially to be noted over fences on novices.’

Over the past few seasons Jack Quinlan has made his mark on the UK scene and with 96 wins from 934 rides in the past five years, the 25-year-old is on the cusp of taking the next step up from journeyman to top niche rider.

His victory aboard Kalashnikov in the Betfair Hurdle propelled him into the public spotlight, but this hard-working jump jockey would really hit the big time if the partnership managed to kick start the meeting with victory in the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

After all, there’s nothing like a Festival victory to make trainers, owners and punters alike sit up and take notice.

Jacobs’ verdict: ‘I think one of the most underrated young jockeys on the circuit, really strong and brave. I have heard him talk in the unsaddling enclosure, giving feedback and he is also a top class communicator which is vitally important.’

Bryony Frost has been the talk of the UK racing scene for the past six months, not only due to her outstanding skill in the saddle, but her engaging personality.

There is no doubt she has a racing brain many jockeys would love to own and her partnership with the staying novice chaser Black Corton (runs in the RSA Chase on Wednesday) could well be her date with destiny in what looks an open renewal.

Jacobs’ verdict: ‘She deserves her chance on this stage and is paving the way for other young women to perhaps consider a career in a sport, which has always leaned towards men. She is changing that long-held belief.’

Of the younger brigade, James Bowen has a chance to make a mark on the biggest stage this week and like Jack Kennedy has always looked a natural.

He already has 46 winners to his name this campaign, having amassed total prize money in excess of half a million pounds.

I shall also be keeping an eye out for the current conditional champion Harry Cobden who is gradually picking up outside rides away from the Paul Nicholls yard, Cieren Gethings (one of the strongest young riders in the game) and Derek Fox. Of course, the last named comes from the more senior ranks and his ride aboard One For Arthur in last year’s Grand National was to my eyes a thing of beauty.

He will only have a handful of rides at this year’s Festival, as retained jockey for Lucinda Russell, but should one of them hit the winning mark, then the 25-year-old Sligo rider could propel himself to the next level.

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