Who Are the Favourites for the Feature Races at Cheltenham Festival?
One of the most eagerly anticipated events of the horse racing calendar, Cheltenham Festival, is almost upon us, with experts predicting one of the most competitive festivals in history. Although the event started as just the Gold Cup alone, that race is now the landmark event on the last fourth and final day of the festival. Each day has 7 races with a feature race right in the middle of the day’s schedule. Spectators on day one will be eagerly anticipating The Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy, a race with eight hurdles to tackle in just over two miles. The feature race of day two is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a steeple chase with 13 jumps over a distance of two miles, while day three spectators will be looking forward to the Ryanair Steeple Chase with its 17 tough jumps. With 22 fences to be tackled in just over three miles, the Gold Cup steals the show on day four of the festival. Preparations for the event are well underway, with many of the contenders competing in warm up races, meaning we can see what kind of shape they’re in before the festival. So here are some of the favourites for each event according to the expert tips from oddschecker who also provide previews and analysis for all races at Cheltenham Festival.
Day 1 — The Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
The Champion Hurdle is the third and final leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling which also includes the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park. Last year’s Champion Hurdle was won by Honeysuckle, alongside Rachael Blackmore, who was the leading jockey at the whole festival with six wins, the first time a woman has ever achieved this honour. Honeysuckle is one of the favourites for this year’s Champion Hurdle too having remained unbeaten since last years win with victories at Punchestown, Fairyhouse and Leopardstown. She’ll face stiff competition in the form of Appreciate It, the Willie Mullins trained winner of last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle, which he won by a whopping 24 lengths.
Many believed he would have run Honeysuckle close last year, so we can expect him to be competitive despite being inactive since his 2021 win. Gordon Elliot trained Teahupoo will be another one to watch in The Champion Hurdle after an impressive 2021 which included wins at Fairyhouse, Naas and Limerick. He also started this year in fine form, winning at Gowran Park in Ireland. Epatante, who finished third in last years race will also be one to watch after wins at Newcastle and Kempton Park at the end of last year.
Day 2 — Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase
The Queen Mother Champion Chase was named in honour of the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday in 1980, and many of the races since then have certainly honoured her. Last year’s race was won by Put The Kettle On, a Henry De Bromhead trained Bay Mare from Ireland. She has an impressive history at Cheltenham having won the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Cheltenham Chase in 2020 , as well as the November Novices Chase in 2019. Nicki Henderson’s Shishkin will be coming for the crown and there’s plenty of reason to fear him, he has an almost perfect record including wins in the 2020 Supreme Novices Hurdle and the 2021 Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase. He has won 11 of his 12 race entries, with his only defeat coming in a 2019 race at Newbury where he fell while challenge for a second-place finish.
Energumene, who’ll be making his Cheltenham debut, will also be a contender. He finished second to Shishkin at Ascot earlier this year and recorded four wins in Ireland in 2021. Although many expect a two-horse race, Chacun Pour Soi, last year’s third place finisher, may also have a say in the outcome. He has been in decent form since last year’s Champion Chase, winning at Punchestown and Leopardstown.
Day 3 — Ryanair Steeple Chase
The Ryanair Steeple Chase is one of many events that was added to Cheltenham Festival as part of its expansion in 2005 and it has provided plenty of landmark Cheltenham moments since then. The 2021 race was won by Allaho, one of Rachael Blackmore’s partners from last year’s record breaking 6 Cheltenham wins. Since then, Allaho has recorded wins at Punchestown and Thurles, leading many experts to predict that he’ll retain his crown. He’ll face stiff competition in Energumene, who is competing in the Ryanair Steeple Chase, as well as the Queen Mother Champion Chase. 2021 Gold Cup runner up A Plus Tard will also be a contender with the shorter distance potentially favouring the Henry de Bromhead trained Gelding.
Gordon Elliot-trained Conflated will have plenty of eyes on him after he followed up his December win at Navan with a victory at Leopardstown in February this year. The latter victory was achieved despite being rated at 18/1 before the race, so he is certainly capable of a shock win at Cheltenham.
Day 4 — Cheltenham Gold Cup
Since becoming a jumps race in 1924, the Cheltenham Gold Cup has provided hundreds of impactful moments that live long in the memories of fans. Last year’s race was won by Minella Indo, an Irish born Gelding trained by Henry de Bromhead. Since then, he has been unlucky in his three subsequent appearances, finishing third at Down Royal, pulling up at Kempton, and finishing second at Leopardstown.
Many experts believe he is just warming in time to push himself for the Gold Cup. A Plus Tard, who was beaten to the post in 2021, will be among the contenders again, particularly if partnered with Rachael Blackmore as expected. The pair followed up last year’s Gold Cup with a win at Haydock Park and a second-place finish at Leopardstown, where he was beaten by Galvin, another 2022 Gold Cup Contender. The Irish Gelding won last year’s National Hunt Challenge Cup at Cheltenham and followed that up with wins at Punchestown and Leopardstown, as well as a second-place finish at Down Royal. Gordon Elliot, his trainer, will be hoping he can continue his fine run of form for the big race.