Rising star Ryan Hatch has been handed a “huge” boost ahead of the Cheltenham Festival – the opportunity to ride Martin Keighley’s best horse Champion Court.
The 20-year-old from Hartpury will team up with the high-class gelding if he runs in the Byrne Group Plate Handicap Chase on the third day of the meeting, next Thursday.
Keighley confirmed that stable jockey Ian Popham will ride Champion Court if he runs in the Ryanair Chase instead on the same day.
But he wanted to put Hatch on standby after being impressed with the skills he has already shown in top races for boss Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Hatch, whose 7lb weight allowance could prove crucial next week, showed he could handle the pressure of the big occasion when he rode Same Difference to victory for Twiston-Davies at last year’s Festival.
He enhanced his reputation as one of the top up-and-coming riders in the country with big-race wins on two Saturdays in a row for Twiston-Davies last month.
Hatch visited Keighley’s stable near Stow-on-the-Wold this week to ride Champion Court on the training gallops and is thrilled to have the possibility of being aboard the five-time winner at the Festival.
“When Martin thought of a claimer my name came up first, which is huge for me,” said Hatch.
“I gave the horse a school at Martin’s on Wednesday and he jumped well, as you’d expect because he is a brilliant jumper in his races. It was more for my benefit than the horse’s.
“My fingers are firmly crossed, but we’ll just have to wait and see which race he goes for.”
Hatch is enjoying the best season of his fledging career over jumps with 12 winners, spearheaded by his high-profile victories aboard Splash Of Ginge and Kayf Aramis.
He will be looking to showcase his talents again over the biggest four days of the jumps campaign at Prestbury Park.
“February was a good month,” said Hatch. “I rode four winners in February and two of them were on Channel 4, so it was really good.
“It’s a huge confidence boost and it probably leads to other opportunities, for instance riding for Martin. It’s big boost in all different kind of ways.”
Keighley and owner Mark Boothright were keen to book Hatch to ensure that Champion Court won’t have to carry top weight if he runs in the Byrne Group Plate.
The gelding is currently fourth in the pecking order but the three horses above him are expected to line up in other races instead.
Keighley said: “We’re still undecided if we’re going to run in the Ryanair or the Byrne Plate, but there’s no way I’d run Champion Court in the Byrne Plate off top weight, so Ryan would take 7lb off.
“For his 7lb, the experience Ryan has got is absolutely fantastic. He’s ridden a Festival winner already and the last few weekends he’s ridden some big winners for Nigel.
“He’s got three more winners before he goes to 5lb, so he best save that 7lb for Cheltenham!
“He’s a really quiet rider and it was great to see him riding work and schooling.
“ Mark was very keen to get Ryan to claim the 7lb and asked me to give him a call.
“Ryan knows there is no set plan but at least he’s sat on him a few times.”