Horse Racing’s Greatest Rivalries

Features | 27th January 2022

British racing has thrown up some sensational rivalries down the years. Here’s a look at the horses, jockeys and trainers that have provided some spine‐tingling drama with those battles.

We saw one of the truly great head‐to‐heads when Shishkin swooped late to nail Energumene in the Clarence House Stakes at Ascot. The stage is set for round two of what promises to become a box‐office busting saga between two superb horses.

Racing has thrown up some sensational rivalries in recent decades. Here we take a look at the horses, jockeys and trainers that have provided some spine‐tingling drama with those battles.

Denman vs Kauto Star

There can have been few races more anticipated by the racing public than the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The reigning champ, Kauto Star, trained by Paul Nicholls, faced the biggest threat to his defence from literally his next‐door neighbour.

Stablemate Denman was, despite being born less than a month after his rival, the young pretender. He was unbeaten in eight races and had put up an awesome display when lugging top weight to victory in what is now the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.

As his owner, the professional gambler Harry Findlay, put it he was ‘The Tank’ to Kauto Star’s Maserati.

The excitement built to unprecedented levels as the Gold Cup approached. Scarves in the contenders’ colours were made by the thousands.On the track Denman showed all his power and prowess to come clear of Kauto Star by seven

Revenge was sweet for Kauto Star’s fans 12 months later when he became the first horses to regain the Gold Cup with a performance chock full of his brilliance.

Rounds three and four saw the dynamic duo beaten by first Imperial Commander and then Long Run in the following Gold Cups but their epic Cheltenham battles make their rivalry among the greatest jump racing has ever seen.

AP McCoy vs Richard Johnson

For 20 years Sir AP McCoy dominated British jump racing. After landing the conditional jockeys’ title in 1994 – his first season after moving from Ireland – there wasn’t a single season when he failed ride more winners than anyone other jockey before retiring in 2015.

His dedication is legendary but there was one factor pushing him harder than his own will to win. His name was Richard Johnson.

Known to his weighing room colleagues as Dickie, he took over from AP as champion conditional. He went on to finish runner‐up behind his old rival in the race to be champion jump jockey an astonishing 16 times. The closest he came to beating AP was in 2006 when just 11 winners separated the pair.

Ultimately, it wasn’t until AP retired that Richard realised his long‐held dream to be champion jockey. Amazingly, despite the intense rivalry, the pair have always remained close allies and often refer to one another as each other’s greatest motivation. 


McCoy and Johnson
Richard Johnson and AP McCoy ride a finish at Sandown.

Richard Dunwoody vs Adrian Maguire

Few sporting rivalries can have been as intense as the battles between Richard Dunwoody and Adrian Maguire. They both drove themselves to the brink in their relentless pursuit of the for the champion jump jockey title in the 1993/94 season when their tussle threatened to boil over.

Richard was banned for two weeks when he was found guilty of deliberately pushing Adrian’s mount into the wing of the second last hurdle in a Nottingham seller in March.

It ruled the then reigning champ out of the Cheltenham Festival and dealt a blow to his title defence. Ultimately, it didn’t stop him winning his second champion jockey’s crown.

The ferocious tussle went down to the very last meeting of the season with Richard coming out on top by just three winners. The following year, the pair were locked in another titanic battle when a broken arm suffered in a fall at Hereford in April ended Adrian’s title dreams.

He is still regarded as the best jockey never to be champion. Sadly, his career was cut short by a serious neck injury at the age of just 31. Richard was forced to call it a day after battling a persistent arm injury.

Dunwoody Maguire
Moorecroft Boy - Adrian Maguire leads over the last from Miinnehoma - Richard Dunwoody in the 1994 Grand National

Paul Nicholls vs Nicky Henderson

Two men have dominated British jump racing over the last 15 years. Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls have, between them, won just about every big race in the calendar. Of the 40 British Grade 1 prizes, only two have eluded the pair.

Their list of big winners reads like a list of jumping’s greatest horses of recent times. From See More Business to Big Buck’s, Kauto Star, Denman and Master Minded, 12‐times champion trainer Paul has consistently unearthed champions.

Nicky might be lagging behind with just six champion trainer’s titles, but his list of great horses is equally impressive.

Long Run, Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth, Altior, Buveur D’Air and, now, Shishkin all had their talents honed at his famed Seven Barrows stables. No quarter is ever given on the track but their rivalry is underpinned by mutual admiration andrespect.

It’s a rivalry that promises to continue to entertain racing fans for many years yet.