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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

When codes collide: the Flat jockeys who made their mark at Cheltenham Festival

John Randall highlights the top Flat jockeys to have scored at the festival

Gold Cup winner Martin Molony (right) with his brother Tim
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1 Martin Molony

The greatest dual-purpose jockey of all time, Martin Molony utilised his strength in a finish to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup by a short head on Silver Fame in April 1951. A month later he came third in the Derby on Signal Box.

Molony had won two previous festival races on Silver Fame, was Ireland's champion jockey (Flat and jumps combined) in each of his last six full seasons from 1946, and won three Irish Classics. He died last July, aged 91.

2 Frank Wootton

The boy wonder of British racing, Australian-born Frank Wootton was only 15 when champion Flat jockey for the first time in 1909, and he added three more titles before increasing weight forced him to ride over jumps.

He was nearly champion jump jockey as well and he scored two festival wins, both in the Gloucestershire (now Supreme Novices') Hurdle – on Milton (1921) and West Countryman (1923).

3 Aubrey Brabazon

Like his friend Martin Molony, Aubrey Brabazon was in the rich tradition of dual-purpose Irish jockeys, and he rode the first two of Vincent O'Brien's legendary champions. Between 1948 and 1950 he partnered Cottage Rake to his three Gold Cup victories and Hatton's Grace to his first two Champion Hurdle triumphs.

At the same time he was riding Classic winners, and he shared the Irish jockeys' title with Molony in 1946.

4 Lester Piggott

As an 18-year-old in 1954 the subsequent 11-time Flat champion scored a Cheltenham Festival victory in the Birdlip Selling Hurdle on Mull Sack, trained by his father Keith, who had ridden the 1939 Champion Hurdle winner. Four days later he won the Triumph Hurdle at Hurst Park on his former Derby mount Prince Charlemagne.

Lester Piggott returns to the site of former victory

That June, Piggott won the first of his nine Derbys on Never Say Die, but it was five years before he got his weight under control and stopped riding over hurdles.

5 TP Burns

TP Burns rode 1955 Champion Hurdle runner-up Stroller, and proved his versatility in 1957 by winning a division of the Gloucestershire Hurdle on Saffron Tartan, and the Irish Derby and the St Leger on Ballymoss.

His nine festival wins, all for Ballymoss's trainer Vincent O'Brien, included seven divisions of the Gloucestershire Hurdle in five years, and in 1963 he rode Arkle to victory at Navan in the supreme champion's only regular Flat race.

6 Tommy Murphy

One of the unsung heroes of Irish racing, Tommy Murphy was champion Flat jockey in 1978 thanks mainly to winners provided by Vincent O'Brien, though Lester Piggott took over in the big races.

He had been a prominent hurdles jockey and his one festival winner, Noble Life, caught subsequent giant Comedy Of Errors close home and prevailed by a neck in the 1972 Gloucestershire Hurdle.

7 Jamie Spencer

The most recent of the three champion Flat jockeys in Britain who have won at the Cheltenham Festival, Jamie Spencer rode Pizarro to a neck victory over Rhinestone Cowboy in the 2002 Champion Bumper. It was the only time he rode the horse.

Jamie Spencer and Enquiring Mind go down to the start for the 2002 Champion Bumper

It was not the family's first win at the meeting, as his father, George, had been the owner-trainer of 1963 Champion Hurdle victor Winning Fair. He has been champion Flat jockey once in Ireland and twice in Britain.

8 Richard Hughes

A son of Dessie Hughes, who rode winners of the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle, Richard Hughes was placed three times at the festival. He came third on Daraydan (Royal SunAlliance Hurdle) and Paddy's Return (Stayers' Hurdle) in 1997, and second on His Song (Supreme Novices' Hurdle) in 1998. He also rode in Make A Stand's Champion Hurdle.

Unlike his father, he was light enough to make a career on the Flat, and he became champion jockey three times (2012-14).

9 Johnny Murtagh

Johnny Murtagh had already won three of his five Irish Flat jockeys' titles, and won the Arc and three Derbys, when having a brief spell over jumps in 2006.

Riding his Leopardstown November Handicap winner Golden Cross, he was a close and possibly unlucky second in the World (now Stayers') Hurdle. Golden Cross was challenging My Way De Solzen when carried to his right in the last 100 yards, and failed by only a head to catch his rival.

10 Pat Smullen

Champion Flat jockey nine times in Ireland, Pat Smullen has had only National Hunt five rides in Britain in his whole career – and they have all been in the Champion Bumper.

Dunguib: an impressive winner of the 2009 Champion Bumper under O'Connell

His best placing has been third in 2009 on Rite Of Passage – on whom he later won the Ascot Gold Cup – and his two most recent rides both resulted in fifth place on Vigil.


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Pat Smullen has had only National Hunt five rides in Britain in his whole career – and they have all been in the Champion Bumper
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