Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – 2m 87yds – Grade One
This is an open and shut case. Constitution Hill should win it at a canter. He’s a mercurial jumper, and we’ve not seen the best of him yet according to those who know him well. His Supreme win last year captivated the minds of the crowd and we’ve watched him progress and saunter to victory in every Grade One put in front of him. He could overtake Night Nurse in Timeform rankings if he wins by a margin that makes him the best hurdler ever.
Second place also feels like a lost cause for the rest of the opponents. State Man was imperious in last year’s County Hurdle and has readily followed up the form by winning the Irish Champion Hurdle, and being Ireland’s best chance of taking on Constitution Hill. He’s a talented individual, but he may just run into a superstar.
So, third place, for the rest of the runners will feel like a big win, who can fill it? Vauban was the best juvenile horse last year by winning the Triumph and the 4-Y-O Hurdle at Punchestown in great style. He’s finished behind State Man twice since then and shouldn’t be too discouraged in defeat. He may want it a little firmer than it looks to be, but he’s still a good horse in his own right.
I Like To Move It was back to winning ways in the Kingwell Hurdle after stepping up and hating the trip in the Relkeel. He won around C&D by winning the Greatwood Hurdle, and would put up a good chance to finish third. Nigel Twiston-Davies has always been sweet on this horse and this race may have been in the back of his mind after his Greatwood win.
The next best horse is First Street who would be out of his depth, as well as Pied Piper who got beat by more than 85 lengths by State Man over Christmas.
Verdict: Constiution Hill; He wins. End of. 1/3, best price generally. The best bet of the race is to do a trifecta or to finish exactly third. I think that coveted Bronze medal will go to I Like To Move It, a great win in the Greatwood and a good horse overall to have on your side. If you fancy a small each-way poke, he’s 16/1 with William Hill and Boylesports.
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – 1m 7F 199yds – Grade One
This could be one of the most exciting races of the week as the fallout from the Clarence House will be settled. Can Editeur Du Gite upset again or can Energumene and Edwardstone reverse the result?
Last year’s winner Energumene performed well in the Hilly Way at Cork. He looked to be going off short-priced for the Champion Chase by the time of the Clarence House. Then he blew out and all of a sudden looked like a no hoper. But the New Course is a galloping track and it didn’t look like it suited him. He loved the Old Course and the soft ground last year, and it looks like history could repeat itself.
Edwardstone was the one to take out the race. Tom Cannon didn’t know how to handle Editeur Du Gite but lessons were learnt down the hill and Edwardstone rallied to no avail. Given that it is a shorter trip over the Old Course, Edwardstone will suit it a bit better, given his dominant Arkle win and Tom Cannon will ride him a little differently to beat Editeur Du Gite.
Earlier in the season, Editeur Du Gite changed his tactics to be help up, and failed spectacularly. Then he went back to front-running and has won two on the bounce. He loves Cheltenham, and has a great record, which may have helped him in the Clarence House, but you sense that Cannon and Paul Townend will ride differently to beat the front-runner, but if Editeur Du Gite goes off at a quick gallop, he may take all the beating.
Gentleman De Mee may have been underestimated in the market. He won well at the Dublin Racing Festival, and reversed the form from Christmas against Blue Lord. And with the latter going to the Ryanair, Gentleman De Mee has free reign to set a front running pace along with Editeur Du Gite. But despite being a Grade One winner, he’s yet to match the quality of Energumene and Edwardstone.
Honourbale mentions for Captain Guinness and Funambule Sivola who are at the bottom of the market. Captain Guinness has always been unlucky at Cheltenham, and has decent form in all his other races. Funambule Sivola finished second in last year’s race, and won his prep race, the Game Spirit, in similar fashion. Both could run a big race.
Verdict: Edwardstone; He seems to relish Cheltenham, as was the one to take out of the Clarence House. Tom Cannon will be riding to catch Editeur Du Gite and to hold off to Energumene. Best price is 7/4 generally.
Each-way: Funambule Sivola finished second in last year’s race in deep ground, which isn’t his usual ground preference. Ran another good race in the Game Spirit to bounce back, and is a big each-way swing at 40/1 with William Hill and BetUK.
Ryanair Chase – 2m 4F 127yds – Grade One
This race has the banker of the week for many. Shishkin returns to the track to put right what went wrong at the Festival last year. There were upset groans from certain corners of the horse racing world when Nicky Henderson announced he would step up in trip. But it has worked an absolute treat. His Ascot Chase run was dominant and powerful, to lay down a marker for the race. Even at odds-on he is the banker.
Blue Lord got beat in the Irish version of the Champion Chase, the Dublin Chase, and has been stepped up in trip. It will interesting to see how he handles the trip, but looked like he needed it, despite losing by seven lengths. He’s not the most convincing, but given what he did at Christmas, he could surprise Shishkin.
Conflated should go for the Gold Cup. But due to the fact that Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, has only ever won the race, he’s sponsored since 2008, once, Balko Des Flos, he wants to win it again. Conflated isn’t the best liked horse, but he won the Savills Chase, and has been kept fresh since. He looked like he wasn’t going to beat Allaho, he might fall short to Shishkin.
Fury Road is the other Gigginstown runner who looks to be suited for the race. Stepping down in distance, but finished behind Galopin Des Champs in this year’s Irish Gold Cup. He’s been beaten regularly over three miles, but his first start of the season came over 2m 4F. In fact his record over 2m 3F – 2m 5F is three wins, two seconds and one third. So the Ryanair will suit Fury Road down to the ground.
Janidil won the Red Mills Chase in good fashion, and was second behind Allaho last year. Soft ground is his preference, and he’ll love the current ground to try and chase down Shishkin. Although he is a Grade One winner, he may not perform to Grade One level, but can certainly contest for places.
Verdict: Shishkin; Should be a dominant winner and 2m 4F is his trip. He will right the wrongs of last year and he looks 100% back to his best. Best price is 4/6 generally.
Each-way pick: Fury Road drops down in trip, and will relish the chance. He’s got a great record over 2m 4F, and should be the Gigginstown number one for this race. Each-way price of 8/1 is available with Boylesports, William Hill and BetUK. The straight forecast of Shishkin/Fury Road would pay quite well.
Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle – 2m 7F 203yds – Grade One
Always competitive and this year’s renewal is no different. There’s a ‘will he, won’t he’ about the antepost favourite, and the French may steal it from the UK and Irish’s noses.
Blazing Khal. Is he going to run? As of writing, it’s all stations go, which is a relief. Only one run this season, and it was convincing. His course form is fantastic after two wins in two novice hurdles last season. He’s impressive and Charles Byrnes has his best chance of a Festival winner with him.
Marie’s Rock is another ‘will she or won’t she’ as Nicky Henderson decides between here or the Mares’ Hurdle. If the ground is soft, she’ll go to the Mares’ Hurdle, if firmer she’ll come here. Otherwise, she is a brilliant mare and even if she does step up in distance, she’ll be hard to catch, given her run in the Relkeel put her into the picture for the Stayers’.
Teahupoo was the one who beat Honeysuckle. Very much the Bond villain of racing. But he is a talented stayer after a 15 length romp on deep ground at Gowran Park. I question the form of the race, as it wasn’t the highest quality of races. But Grade One form, and beating Honeysuckle, must mean he’s a tough horse.
Home By The Lee has come on leaps and bounds since last year’s race. He couldn’t get a run through the field, but he’s learnt from that and that was seen with the race at Navan. Midway through, he was let go by J J Slevin and looked as though he could burn out. But he stayed on really well, and backed it up over Christmas. He’s an eyecatcher for sure.
Flooring Porter has disappointed this year, and it hasn’t been a great watch. But the dual winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle hasn’t always been perfect. Last season he had three runs without a win when he won the 2021 edition. His form was PF2, and still won the race. It seems that Cheltenham is a track he loves and he may just prove the market wrong.
Gold Tweet was a shock in the Cleeve Hurdle and opened the French’s eyes that they could win at Cheltenham. They have two in the race, but Gold Tweet is the best chance. The form of the race could be a question, but a C&D win always helps, especially those from the continent.
Verdict: Home By The Lee; He was my first antepost bet of the year, and with two wins under his belt, plus course experience, he could run a mighty race with Blazing Khal, if he goes, and Marie’s Rock, if she goes. 6/1 with William Hill is a nice price.
Each-way pick: Dashel Drasher is a good performer over 3m, and has finished second three times this season and he suits Cheltenham well. He hasn’t run too badly on his runs, and could sneak into the places at 25/1 general price.
Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup – 3m 2F 70yds – Grade One
The biggest race of the season. All the iconic names have won this race, and have been immortalised ever since. This year looks to be one of the most competitive Gold Cups we have had for a while.
Galopin Des Champs looks unbeatable. Visually, he’s spectacular. He’s jumping better than he did last season, but if he does put in a jumping performance like he did the previous season, he won’t win. Improved on jumping and a great Irish Gold Cup win behind him, to some he is the best bet of the week.
Bravemansgame ‘is the best since Denman’ said Paul Nicholls. He might not be Denman, but he is Paul Nicholls’ best chance of a Gold Cup since Silviniaco Conti. A fantastic King George winner, always proves to be a race where winners of the Gold Cup come from, he’s been kept fresh and could cap a stellar season for the team at Ditcheat.
A Plus Tard’s blow out in the Betfair Chase was a big shock to everyone. His absence has been even more shocking. It’s a long lay-off, but the signs are positive down in Waterford for the de Bromhead’s, and hopefully comes back to form.
Noble Yeats won the Grand National. He was the left field pick at the start of the season. His Cotswold Chase run was good. He handled the track well and finishing in behind Ahoy Senor and Sounds Russian, he can overturn the form and land yet another big prize.
Ahoy Senor won the Cotswold Chase after being written off his first two starts of the season. His first race at Wetherby was poor, and his King George run was as well. He was an outside chance, but he shocked everyone, when everyone doubted him. It’s clear he loves Cheltenham, and if he’s going on the day, he’ll be hard to stop.
Stattler won last year’s National Hunt Cup and can stay for days. Two seconds, 3m and under, has proved that he wants further and 3m 2F would be a good trip for him to compete at. He looked like he would’ve beaten Galopin Des Champs over further last time out and can get the better of him here.
Protektorat blew out in the Cotswold Chase, but trainer Dan Skelton admitted he made a mistake in his training. He will have been trained for the race since then, and a third in last year’s race may make him the each-way play.
Minella Indo is getting older but help on well to win the New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore. After two good runs in the Gold Cup, he may have run past his best. Hewick would be the greatest story to win the Gold Cup for Shark Hanlon. It looks like he could win anywhere, even America. He would make the Gold Cup a fairytale.
Verdict: Stattler; Stayers win the race. Stattler would outstay everyone in the field, and could easily go for the National in the future. He’s has a great chance, and if Danny Mullins gets the ride then he would give his stablemate a tough race over a testing trip. 10/1 is great price from William Hill
Each-way pick: Ahoy Senor; Loves the track and could very well win the race if he sets the pace. He did nothing wrong last time out and Lucinda Russell will hope for a similar performance again. 14/1 is a general price.