However, the first female jockey to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival was Caroline Robinson (née Beasley), who won the Foxhunter Chase – a race restricted to amateur jockeys – on her own horse, Eliogarty, in 1983. Originally bought by her father, Jeremy, and trained in Co. Claire, Ireland, by John Hassett, Eliogarty was once described by Robinson as ‘the greatest present anyone’s ever given me’. Three years later, Robinson won the Aintree Foxhunters on the same horse, therbey becoming the first female jockey to ride a winner over the Grand National fences, too.
Back at the Cheltenham Festival, though, the first female jockey to ride a winner against fully fledged professionals was Gee Armytage who, in 1987, won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup on The Ellier, trained by Nigel Tinkler. Just for good measure, at the same Festival, Armytage also won the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup on the aptly-named Gee-A, trained by Geoff Hubbard. She came close to making further history by winning the leading jockey award – the first female jockey to actually do so was Rachael Blackmore in 2021 – but lost out on ‘countback’ to Peter Scudamore.
Rachael Blackmore took most of the headlines at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, becoming the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle, on Honeysuckle, and the first woman to win the Ruby Walsh Trophy, presented to the leading jockey at the meeting. However, in the ‘Blue Riband’ event itself, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Blackmore and her mount, A Plus Tard, were usurped by lesser-fancied stablemate Minella Indo, ridden by Jack Kennedy, who stayed on gamely to win by 1¼ lengths.
In fairness, Minella Indo had looked a desperately unlucky loser in the 2020 RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, where he was unable to withstand an extraordinary finishing effort from Champ, who made up fully 8½ lengths from the final fence. After two easy wins at Wexford and Navan at the start of the 2020/21 season, Minella Indo had fallen before halfway in the Savills Chase and finished only fourth of five in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, both at Leopardstown, en route to the Cheltenham Festival.
However, the form of his Cheltenham Gold Cup win looks pretty solid, with previous dual winner Al Boum Photo only third, beaten 5½ lengths, and a yawning 24-length gap back to the 2018 winner, Native River, in fourth place. Minella Indo has done all his winning on good to soft, or softer, going, so unseasonably warm weather would not be in his favour. That would appear to be his only negative and, while he has the feted novice Monkfish to contend with this time around, he fully deserves his position at the head of the ante-post market.
The short answer is no, he hasn’t. Run over 2 miles 4½ furlongs on the New Course at Prestbury Park, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle was added to the Cheltenham Festival programme in 2009. The race commemorates the achievements of the eponymous Martin Pipe, who won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship fifteen times, including ten years running between 1996 and 2005.
All told, Pipe Snr. saddled 34 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, notably winning the Champion Hurdle twice, with Granville Again in 1993 and Make A Stand in 1997. His son, David, who took over the training licence at Pond Hill Stables in Nicholashayne, Somerset in 2006, has since saddled a further 15 winners at the March showpiece. However, the race named in honour of his father has so far proved elusive, although it has not been for the want of trying.
In fact, in the 13 runnings of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle since its inauguration on 2009, David Pipe has saddled a total of 23 runners without success. In the 2021 renewal, for example, Pipe saddled three of the 22 runners, but could finish no better than sixth, beaten 16¼ lengths, with Leoncavallo, ridden by Fergus Gillard. His other two runners, First Lord De Cuet and Martinhal, finished miles behind, in fourteenth and seventeenth place, respectively.
The short answer is yes, he certainly has. In fact, he has ridden three. Hughes opened his Cheltenham Festival account on 33/1 chance Hawk High, owned by the late Trevor Hemmings and trained by Tim Easterby, in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in 2014. Two years later, he doubled his tally when winning the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase on Ballyalton, trained by Ian Williams. Two years later still, in 2018, he won the same race again, on Mister Whitaker, trained by Mick Channon.
Hughes, 36, won the conditional jockeys’ title in 2007/08 and the senior jump jockeys’ title in 2019/20, making him the first jockey based in the North of England to do so since the legendary Jonjo O’Neill four decades previously. Remarkably, though, despite riding 1,443 winners at the last count – including over a hundred in every season since 2015/16 – Brian Hughes has just one Grade 1 winner to his name. His solitary success at the highest level came aboard the aptly-named Waiting Patiently, trained by Ruth Jefferson, in the Betfair Ascot Chase in February, 2018.
Nevertheless, Hughes has amassed well over £1 million in prize money in each of the last five seasons. He currently leads the 2021 jump jockeys’ championship with 63 winners from 334 rides, at a strike rate of 21%, and is currently long odds-on to be crowned champion jockey for a second time when Saturday, April 23, 2022 rolls around.