Walsh may face competition for top Festival jockey honours


As Ruby Walsh approaches a return to the saddle following a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a broken leg, the Irishman finds himself at the top of the ante-post list for the top Cheltenham Festival jockey. With a book of rides that is expected to include both Big Bucks and Master Minded this is not perhaps a surprise and he'll certainly attract plenty of Cheltenham 2011 bets.

However before rushing in to take the short prices on offer there are a few factors to consider, the main one being the spectacular emergence of Paul Townend. In Walsh's absence, Townend has ridden as first jockey to leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins and he has done so with great success. The jockey's relationship with the yards star hurdler Hurricane Fly has seen the duo secure three Grade 1 prizes in Ireland this winter and there is a very strong chance that the partnership will remain intact for the Champion Hurdle itself.

That may not be the only Mullins challenger that Townend keeps the ride on and at the prices on offer it may be that the bookmakers have not considered this option, they merely seem to have decided that Walsh will walk straight back in with his choice of all the mounts. Such is the talent of Ruby Walsh that you cannot discount that happening, but with Walsh riding in Britain more than ever these days, Mullins may decide that this year is the time to blood Townend in the high profile environment of the Championship races. Walsh is an incredibly popular jockey and will no doubt also lead the way when it comes to Grand National 2011 tips, but this doesn't mean he'll get things all his own way.

At the prices on offer and with an arguably more solid book of rides to call upon Barry Geraghty may well prove the man to beat in the bid for the top jockey award.
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