It's Walsh's Cheltenham Festival title to lose but don't discount Geraghty
Jon Lees takes a look at the competition to be top rider
Who can stop Ruby Walsh winning his 12th Cheltenham Festival riding title next week? Bar an injury, probably no-one it would seem.
With 56 winners and counting, the most successful rider in the meeting's history is over the hill and far away from his rivals with a score that may never be beaten.
And his association with Willie Mullins, the festival's top trainer in five of the last seven years, guarantees Walsh several hotpots among an outstanding book of rides.
Sidelined by injury, Walsh has missed the entire winter, but in his absence Mullins has put together another awesome squad for his returning stable jockey, who not surprisingly is odds-on again to retain his crown.
He has at least five favourites to ride in Getabird, Footpad, Invitation Only, Un De Sceaux and Laurina – and that is without mentioning the two stable superstars Faugheen and Douvan, by no means out of the reckoning next week if they turn up.
Walsh's main challenge will be to ensure he is on the right Mullins horse in races in which the stable has multiple runners, and that has not been a big issue in the past either.
To some, 8-11 with BoyleSports might represent good odds and he was a similar price at this point a year ago, when four winners was enough to claim the crown.
But last year Walsh was competing in a field without Barry Geraghty, who missed the meeting owing to injury, and it is JP McManus's first jockey (9-2 with Betfair Sportsbook, William Hill and Paddy Power) who looks better value.
Geraghty has ridden at fewer Cheltenham Festivals than the man he inherited the McManus job from, Sir Anthony McCoy, but he has ridden more winners there.
His score of 34 is second only to Walsh on the all-time list, and he has finished leading jockey at the meeting twice, most recently in 2012.
It helps that he will be on one of the week's bankers in Unibet Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D'Air, but he also rides Apple's Shakira, favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, and Yanworth in the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle, while Movewiththetimes, Bleu Et Rouge, Didtheyleaveuoutto, Modus, Glenloe and Countister are others who could be at his disposal from the huge McManus team.
The advantage Geraghty and Walsh have over other rivals like Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy is that they will both be on the horse their teams have identified as the number-one challenger in each race.
Russell and Kennedy, who rode his first festival winner only last year and is set to be on Samcro and Apple's Jade, are likely to share the rides from the team of last year's leading festival trainer Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud.
The best outsider is Nico de Boinville, who is a standout 16-1 with BoyleSports, considering his book will include Altior and Might Bite and many of the best Nicky Henderson-trained challengers not owned by McManus or Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
Ladbrokes 4-5 Ruby Walsh, 9-2 Barry Geraghty, 5 Jack Kennedy, 9 Davy Russell, 12 Nico de Boinville, 16 Paul Townend, 25 Robbie Power, Daryl Jacob, Noel Fehily, 40 Sam Twiston-Davies, 66 Bryony Frost
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Leading riders at the festival
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