The start of the jumps season may be a way off yet, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t stop thinking about who’ll take the big prizes in 2022 at the Cheltenham Festival.
Of course, there is no guarantee where we’ll see our favourite equine stars next March, or whether they’ll be running over fences or hurdles, but we can but speculate.
As the season develops, we’ll update this page with the latest thoughts on some of the best races at Prestbury Park with our top Cheltenham Festival tips.
In the meantime, we’ve picked out the likely contenders for the four Championships races during the week.
It’s been confirmed that defending champ Honeysuckle will be targeting a third victory in the opening day’s feature, and as far as the older brigade go there appears little that can trouble her. Now 12 from 12 in her career, Henry De Bromhead’s mares could become one of the greats if rattling off the hat-trick next March. A 6½l victor in 2021, she goes there clear as the one to beat.
If anything is to trouble Kenny Alexander’s superstar, it’s possible it’ll come from last season’s novices. Festival winners Bob Olinger and Appreciate It, alongside Champion Bumper hero Ferny Hollow, who has beaten both of the aforementioned pair, could emerge as the biggest danger. Appreciate It was a spectacular winner of the Supreme this season, and could become the first of Willie Mullins five victors of the race since Ebaziyan (2008/09) to run in the following year’s Champion Hurdle.
Minor surprises have become a relatively common occurrence in recent Champion Chase events, with Put The Kettle On’s success the third time in five years the winner has returned £7.00 or more. The mare will likely have to cause another shock in 2022 if she is to defend her title, with two extremely exciting contenders on target for the race.
Twice a winner at the Festival already, Arkle hero Shishkin looks a monster. He obliged at short odds in the novice event to take his record over fences to a perfect five from five - but has he met a true Grade 1 chaser yet? He could well do so if Energumene makes the Festival next year. A late omission from the Prestbury Park event in 2021, he made up for that with a four straight win over fences with a dominating display at Punchestown. The pair set up for a mouthwatering clash already.
In contrast to the first two days’ features, the Stayers’ Hurdle doesn’t have the look of a race that’ll be dominated by last season’s novices. Flooring Porter and Danny Mullins took the race by the scruff of the neck last season, and made the rest pay for letting them go out in front. It would be a shock if they were allowed to do that again.
Another last absentee from Cheltenham last season, Thyme Hill is the obvious danger. Philip Hobbs’ hurdler was an excellent, tough winner at Aintree and with a clear shot at things heads into the season as the one they have to beat. One that could revert to smaller obstacles is Nicky Henderson’s Champ. There’s always been concerns over his jumping of a fence, and after an abysmal display in the Gold Cup, could be an intriguing contender in the division if connections opt to do what they did with Buveur D’Air and go back over hurdles.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
An Irish one-two-three ensured the Blue Riband event went to the raiding party for the fifth year in sixth with Minella Indo’s hard fought success last March. He’s likely to be back to defend his crown, and at top form, who’s to say he can’t put up a successful defence? The placed pair of A Plus Tard and dual-winner Al Boum Photo are likely to be back once again, but it could be another novice to come through and challenge the hierarchy in the division.
Monkfish, a tough winner of the Albert Bartlett, looked a revelation over fences last season, and while it wasn’t all plain sailing in the RSA Chase last season, he still maintained double his Prestbury Park tally. Things came unstuck somewhat at Punchestown when second to Colreevy, but aiming towards the big prize at a venue he’s two from two at, he has to go there with high hopes.