Gordon Elliott, one of the most successful trainers at the Cheltenham Festival in recent times, has been dealt a severe blow to his chances ahead of the 2023 meeting.
His top jockey, Jack Kennedy, has been ruled out of the Prestbury Park meeting after breaking his leg in a fall at Naas in January. The Irishman had hoped to have recovered in time for Cheltenham, however confirmed this morning that he will not be fit enough to take any rides.
A ten-time winner at the Festival, the 23-year-old is considered one of the finest young jockeys around – claiming the ultimate glory aboard Minella Indo in the Gold Cup back in 2021. Kennedy was also leading the Irish champion jockey standings up until his injury.
Unsurprisingly, Kennedy would have taken some of the top rides for Elliott at Cheltenham, with whom he has enjoyed a prolific partnership in recent years, so his absence will be keenly felt by the trainer.
Elliott will instead have to turn to the experienced Davy Russell, who had retired from the sport before being coaxed back temporarily to replace Kennedy, to guide youngsters Jordan Gainford and Sam Ewing through the high-pressure meeting.
One or more of that trio will now take the mount on the likes of Mighty Potter and Gerri Colombe, who are amongst the favourites in the Turners Novices’ Chase and Brown Advisory Plate. How will the change of jockey affect their chances?
Armson the Latest to Fall Foul of New Whip Rules
One of National Hunt racing’s top conditional jockeys will join 19 others in missing the Cheltenham Festival after being banned for breaching new whip rules.
Phillip Armson, who has landed 24 winners in a prolific campaign, was found to have whipped Gwencily Berbas ten times – three more than the limit – when winning the Devon National at Exeter last week.
His 14-day ban, which won’t begin until March 14, rules him out of competing at the Prestbury Park showpiece.
Armson typically rides out of the David Pipe stable, although he would have been a busy boy at the Cheltenham Festival given his conditional status – that means he gets a weight advantage over professional jockeys, which can be a huge factor in handicap races.
Other riders, including Alice Proctor, William Shanahan and James Turner, will join Lorcan Williams and nearly two-dozen others on the suspended list that will miss the flagship meeting.
However, one jockey that will retain a plum ride at Cheltenham is James Hannon.
He had been involved in a ‘physical altercation’ with fellow jockey Mikey O’Connor at Ireland’s Kildorrery track in February, and was expected to face a ban.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has indeed suspended the jockey from 21 point-to-point meetings after appearing to grab O’Connor at the circuit, however he is free to ride in the amateur jockeys’ National Hunt Chase.
Hannon will be aboard Churchstonewarrior, the 13/2 chance from Jonathan Sweeney’s yard.