Pair of giant jockeys ready to take on Cheltenham – ‘They looked at me like I had four heads’

'They looked at me like I had four heads' – pair of giant jockeys take on Cheltenham
Thomas Costello (centre) is one of two jockeys riding at the Cheltenham Festival who are 6ft 4in - Racing Post/Patrick McCann

In a sport where the diminutive dominate, the prospect of giant jockeys at racing’s flagship Cheltenham Festival might normally be deemed a tall tale.

This week, however, sees the arrival of not one but two 6ft 4ins competitors who can claim comfortably to be the tallest elite jump riders in the world.

Size matters in horse racing more than almost any other sport due to weight restrictions which makes it more favourable for smaller riders to thrive. Jockeys racing on the flat typically stand around 4ft 10-5ft 7 ins, while their jump equivalents are often slightly taller at up to around 5ft 10.

Jack Anderews leaves the Jockeys Room with other riders
Jack Andrews preparing for a race - Eddie Mulholland for the Telegraph

Over the coming days, Jack Andrews and Thomas Costello are expected to be towering over their smallest rivals by up to a foot. Andrews prompted startled looks from spectators last year when he rode Anightinlambourn in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup during the sport’s flagship four-day event.

This year, Andrews can feel less incongruous as Irish-based Costello has emerged on the jump scene and is an exact match in height.

Costello, who is originally from Newmarket-On-Fergus in County Clare, admitted his height makes life difficult in the sport. He said he has had specific training to “tidy up my riding style and keep my balance [as] I am at least four or five inches taller than everyone else.”

He added: “I haven’t met Jack Andrews yet but have seen him. With my height, when I first walked in the weighing room they looked at me like I had four heads. But once you start riding winners you soon get accepted.

“I question myself sometimes why I am a jockey.”

He added: “It’s tough – I can’t lie. I try to watch what I eat and do plenty of exercise to try and keep on top of my weight but it is difficult. I enjoy it though and with a horse like Asian Master under you, it makes you work that bit harder to get where you want to go. He has been my motivation and makes it a lot easier.

“When he came along and we started getting excited, he really pushed me that extra bit to stay motivated and going forward. You need a horse like him to keep them going.”

Pair of giant jockeys ready to take on Cheltenham – 'They looked at me like I had four heads'
Thomas Costello says he has to be very careful with his diet - Lorraine O'sullivan

Describing his strict diet, he said breakfast “is probably a no-go.”

He said: “For lunch, I try to have a sandwich then have something like a pasta-based dinner, nothing too heavy. It’s difficult not to, but I try not to snack as it doesn’t suit me at all.

“I try to drink plenty of water and avoid sugary drinks. Chocolate and fizzy drinks are my guilty pleasures.”

While he and Costello compete in different races this week, Andrews acknowledges there is a friendly rivalry between the pair. “I’ll probably have to stand next to him to see who is taller,” said the 25-year-old, from Dunchurch, near Rugby. “I finished second at the Cheltenham Festival a couple of years ago but I’ve not had a winner yet.”

There is no height limit for jockeys, but as they carefully watch their weights to help their racing, most are considerably shorter than the pair. Andrews had previously described “a daily struggle” to make weight. He said last year that he had adapted his riding style and posture to account for his shape, tucking his legs and knees in to ensure he is “neat and tidy” during races, especially when jumping fences.

He explained: “One of the best compliments someone can give me is that I don’t look tall on the horse. I’m trying to prove that I’m not just a good rider who is tall and that I’m just a good rider in general.”

Although the pair will not be riding against each other, combined odds of 389-1 are being offered if they both win in their separate contests.

Costello rides 25-1 chance Asian Master in the first race of the day, the Grade One Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 1.30pm, while Andrews partners Henry’s Friend, who runs in the Maureen Mullins National Hunt Chase at 5.30pm and is a general 14-1 with bookmakers. Another quirk for Andrews is that he rides against his sister Gina Andrews in the last. Another sibling, Bridget, is married to Harry Skelton and has won at the Festival but is pregnant and not riding this year.

Costello, 22, is based in Closutton in County Carlow, Ireland, with the trainer Willie Mullins, who has 94 Cheltenham Festival winners to his name and hopes this week to become the first ever to reach 100.

Costello and Asian Master – who is owned by the jockey’s parents - are unbeaten in their two starts together under Mullins.

Attendances at this year’s ­Cheltenham Festival appear likely to fall short of last year’s figures, Ian ­Renton, the track’s managing ­director, confirmed on Monday. He told Racing TV “we are going to be a few down on last year”, when the attendance had already dropped by 14 per cent from the four-day record of 280,267 in 2022.

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