The eyes of the horse racing world will once again be on Cheltenham, as racegoers return to the Festival for the first time since 2020.
You’ll hear the first roar of the week on Tuesday 15th March, with day one boasting no less than four Grade 1 races, including the biggest hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar: the Champion Hurdle.
Day One Races – Champions Day (Tuesday 15th March)
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Arkle Challenge Trophy
Ultima Handicap Chase
Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
National Hunt Challenge Cup
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The 2 miles and ½ a furlong Cheltenham Festival 2022 opener is a firm favourite with punters, all looking to get off to a flying start.
Veteran trainer Willie Mullins has nurtured a record-breaking seven Supreme Novice Hurdle winners, including last year’s victor, Appreciate It. Of his latest charges, front-runners Dysart Dynamo and Sir Gerhard offer thin value, but after a recent emphatic 21-length win at Punchestown, Kilcruit could be worth a punt at more favourable odds.
However, of all the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle entries, Constitution Hill has been making the most noise of late – and with good reason. His blistering performance at the Tolworth Hurdle in treacherous Sandown conditions demonstrated versatility and robustness. It doesn’t matter what the ground is like, Constitutional Hill always seems relaxed and fluent, which is why it’s hard to look past him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle betting market.
As with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, there is no frontrunner for Cheltenham’s opening chase race, commonly referred to as “The Arkle”.
After a flawless recent outing at Warwick and victory in the Grade 1 Henry VIII at Sandown, the Alan King-trained Edwardstone leads the Arkle Challenge Trophy betting odds ahead of contenders Blue Lord and Riviere D’etel. But with such a large field, it’s hard to predict a straightforward route to victory for any of the runners.
Looking past the favourites, a few names stand out. Third Time Lucki’s two wins at Cheltenham earlier in the season may have turned a few heads, although the prospect of unfavourable soft ground for this race may undermine his challenge. Also, the Willie Mullins-trained Saint Sam romped to victory at Fairytown on his chase debut.
However, longshot Coeur Sublime seems to be escaping the attention of most punters. The outsider has displayed strong chase form over the years, including a victory in Gowran in January. With such an open field, we’re backing him to win at a big price.
With 24 runners, it’s no surprise that the Ultima Handicap Chase betting market is wide open. However, many previous winners of the Ultima Handicap Chase have been frontrunners – it’s not a complete lottery.
Speaking of which, last year’s victor, Vintage Clouds, is not among the favourites, having endured a frustrating season. However, a recent victory in Doncaster may galvanise Sue Smith’s charge ahead of a race that he clearly has the legs for.
Paul Nicholls’ 10-year-old, Frodon, enters the race with significant pedigree, having been a three-time Grade 1 winner. However, his lacklustre outing in the Irish Gold Cup may cast a few doubts in the minds of punters about its recent form.
There has also been a surge of support for the current frontrunner, Does He Know. Kim Bailey’s Grade 2-winning hurdler has displayed impressive stamina, particularly in the Reynoldstown Novices Chase at Ascot. Although, the price of the current favourite may be too short to represent value.
Defending champion, Honeysuckle, is the red-hot favourite to win the 2022 Champion Hurdle, having been in sparkling form.
Henry de Bromhead’s mare has emerged victorious in her last 14 outings, including her third Irish Champion Hurdle win in January. Although you can only beat what you are up against, it’s generally considered to be a weak hurdling division; Honeysuckle’s record might not be as imperious as it seems.
If this is the case, Appreciate It, looks the most likely to challenge for Honeysuckle’s crown. Onlookers were blown away by his scintillating performance at the 2021 Cheltenham Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but he has not been seen since. This inactivity means that punters are betting in the dark; the tremendous ability that Appreciate It has demonstrated was a year ago.
You can never discount an upset, but it’s difficult to see where it’s coming from in this field!
The Mares’ Hurdle Cheltenham is synonymous with six-time winner Quevega, but there are several contenders looking to build their own legacy.
Telmesomethinggirl’s price has shortened over the last couple of months and she has emerged as the current favourite, followed closely by Concertitsta and Royal Kahala.
At slightly longer odds, Burning Victory has been gaining some traction. Her talent is beyond question, but the fluency of her jumping has long been questioned. It was therefore encouraging to see Willie Mullins’ mare – one of three he has in this race – jump as good as she ever has at Leopardstown in December.
Echoes in Rain is a mare with great pedigree, having had an entry in the Champion Hurdle. Although she has struggled of late, the standard of opposition she has been up against has been arguably higher than what she will be against in the 2022 Mares’ Hurdle.
Last year’s winner, Jeff Kidder, had pre-race odds of 80/1, so the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle betting market can offer plenty of value.
Once again, it’s a completely open field with Gaelic Warrior emerging as the current pre-race favourite. Ben Siegel, who has the same trainer (Noel Meade) and rider (Sean Flanagan) as last year’s winner, has largely flown under the radar. He recorded an impressive victory at a three-year-old Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown in November.
Previous winners have had a lot of racecourse experience, helping them to navigate the hustle and bustle of this race, which is why Champion Green and Iberique Du Seuil both represent great value.
Of these two track-tested horses, we’re edging towards Champion Green reigning victorious in the 2022 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle based on his recent form, including strong performances at Limerick and Naas.
The latest National Hunt Challenge Cup betting odds suggest this year’s race will be an almighty tussle between the two favourites: Run Wild Fred and Statler.
Run Wild Fred has had ten chase starts, and undoubtedly possesses the experience required to win this race. His victory at the Trytown in Navan in November further solidified the seven-year-old gelding’s credentials. On the other hand, Stattler, who is trained by Willie Mullins, only made his chasing debut last December in Fairyhouse. That being said, Stattler has won both the chases he has run in – and looked very impressive in doing so.
Vanillier, Fury Road, or Farouk D’alene could threaten the favourites with a special performance, but it’s difficult to look past Run Wild Fred and Statler.