Thornton a rare gem in market without Ruby

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The Independent Online

Both the sponsorship and recent history of the Thomas Pink Awards suggest not merely that you might want to have a bet on the outcome, but that you could put your shirt on it. Certainly the awards, for the Cheltenham Festival's leading jockey and trainer, offer an excellent way of having an interest, race by race, without needing to invest afresh every time.

The markets, however, are totally dominated by the men whose recent monopoly was last year extended by unprecedented scores of seven, for Ruby Walsh, and five, for Paul Nicholls. Admittedly, there are more races to be won, now that the Festival has a fourth day. But it is extraordinary for Walsh and Nicholls to return with odds-on favourites to retain three of the four championship trophies.

Walsh is in an especially enviable position, being able to cherry-pick between the champion stables of both Britain and Ireland. In the circumstances, it makes sense to consider the odds available "without Ruby Walsh". Nicky Henderson's strong novice team qualifies his stable jockey, Barry Geraghty, as short as 11-10 favourite in these lists, but 7-1 against Robert Thornton is more tempting. His guvnor, Alan King, is usually on the scoreboard and "Choc" also has several good outside rides, such as Somersby in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy tomorrow and Twist Magic in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Even if Nicholls were to win with all three of his odds-on shots – a remote contingency, at a meeting as gruelling as this one – he does not seem to have quite the same depth among his novices this season. While he retains strong chances in all disciplines, Henderson will certainly give him a run for his money. But better value still is Willie Mullins at 10-1 with Paddy Power.

One of the modern masters of a Festival preparation, Mullins has assembled another formidable team, with solid foundations in Quevega – sure to go well again in the mares' race tomorrow – and his four-strong bumper squad. Dunguib apart, the best novice hurdlers in Ireland have once again congregated in his yard, and he has a series of sound each-way prospects such as Cooldine, too.

Thomas Pink awards: Who's in the running?

*Top jockey betting (Totesport)

Ruby Walsh 1-2

Barry Geraghty 9-2

Tony McCoy 7-1

Robert Thornton 10-1

Davy Russell 20-1

Paul Carberry 25-1

Paddy Brennan 33-1

Richard Johnson 33-1

Timmy Murphy 33-1

*Recent winners

2009 Ruby Walsh (7 Festival wins)

2008 Ruby Walsh (3)

2007 Robert Thornton (4)

2006 Ruby Walsh (3)

* Top trainer betting

Paul Nicholls 4-9

Nicky Henderson 4-1

Willie Mullins 8-1

Alan King 16-1

David Pipe 20-1

Jonjo O'Neill 25-1

Noel Meade 25-1

Nigel Twiston-Davies 33-1

*Recent winners

2009 Paul Nicholls (5 Festival wins)

2008 Paul Nicholls (3)

2007 Paul Nicholls (4)

2006 Paul Nicholls (3)

2005 Howard Johnson (3)