Cheltenham Festival – Boom or Bust? –

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Boom or Bust – A closer look at the Festival favourites

With less than four weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2022, we look at how the favourites are shaping up for the biggest races of the week.

Most of the key form in the bag, so it’s a good time to assess the merits of the favourites in the biggest races of the week, firstly so we know who to include in our doubles, trebles and Lucky 15’s, but – just as importantly – so we know who best to avoid at short prices!

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Constitution Hill

  • Form: 2-11
  • Best Price: 9/4

Key Supreme Trends:

  • Just three winning favourites from the last 17
  • 13 of last 15 winners were five and six-year-olds
  • Last 14 of 15 winners won last time out
  • 28% of favourites won since 2000

The opener to the Festival looks a cracker, with many already calling it the race of the entire meeting. Constitution Hill heads the market and carries the hopes of the Great British contingent.

The five-year-old has been visually impressive in both his hurdle starts, showing gears to effortlessly pull clear of his rivals, including in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle. You can poke holes in the strength of his form, but you can’t deny he has the potential to be another Altior for the Nicky Henderson stable.

There is strong opposition including Willie Mullin’s Sir Gerhard and Dysart Dynamo looking a formidable duo.

Sir Gerhard is already proven at the Festival, winning last year’s Bumper, and has gone on to win both hurdle starts including the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. He pulled away from his rivals in the straight and that looks the best-proven form this season.

Dysart Dynamo has some engine and relentlessly galloped his opposition into submission in a Grade 2 over in Ireland. He likes to lead and could easily follow in the footsteps of Klassical Dream and Vautour and do a solo from the front.

Nicky Henderson also has Jonbon, who is looking to emulate his brother, Douvan, and win the Supreme. He came into the season with a big reputation, and price tag but has not disappointed, winning three from three and looks well up to the grade.

Constitution Hill hits all the key trends, but in such a strong renewal he will have to be way above the average winner of this race. He could easily be the next superstar but on his bare form, he represents poor value at 9/4.

The favourites have had a 28% win rate since 2000, which is lower than most of the Grade 1 races. More recently, favourites performance worsens with just three obliging in the last 17 editions of the race at a strike rate of 17%.

I like Constitution Hill, but with so many good runners he is a BUST for me.


Arkle Chase

Edwardstone

  • Form: 222/1126/5U1353-B1111
  • Best Price: 2/1

Key Race Trends:

  • 13 of the last 14 winners aged six or seven
  • 38% of favourites won since 2000

The race has lost its gloss somewhat after Ferny Hollow, the strong market leader in January, suffered injury. Consequently, Edwardstone has sprung to favouritism after proving a revelation over chases.

Previously a 150-rated hurdler, who finished sixth in a Supreme Hurdle, he’s trounced his opposition with fast accurate jumping, and he is the best of the British contingent.

He is up against strong Irish contenders. Blue Lord has won three chases, including the Grade 1 Irish Arkle, but he is not guaranteed to hold up that form from Riviere D’etel who made a bad mistake at the last and stayed on up the run-in but was just denied.

Saint Sam finished third in the Irish Arkle but went a little too hard early, and with a better-judged ride, is still a contender.

This boils down to the classic question: ‘Which form is better, the British or Irish?’

With that comparative better form in the Supreme, I’m swaying towards Blue Lord being slightly stronger than Edwardstone.

Rivière D’etel was only just beaten by Ferny Hollow in January, which you could argue is the best form of the season.

This is a good race for favourites, but Edwardstone is eight years old and doesn’t meet the usual age criteria, although that isn’t necessarily a barrier to success, especially in an average year.

However, with Blue Lord beating Riviere D’etel, who in turn ran Ferny Hollow so close (Ferny was the only horse to beat Bob Olinger last season) it leads me to conclude the Irish form is slightly superior.

This one is a close call, but Edwardstone is a marginal BUST.


Champion Hurdle

Honeysuckle

  • Form: 1/1111/1111/111/111
  • Best Price: 1/2

Key Trends:

  • 48% of favourites won since 2000
  • 11 of the last 15 winners were aged six, seven or eight
  • Previous winners have a strong record to repeat
  • Nine of the last 15 winners had won at least two Grade 1 races

Thank goodness for Honeysuckle! She adds some undisputed class to the Champion Hurdle picture and goes for her second title.

She remains undefeated, with 14 wins under rules, and who would bet against her not making it 15 straight?

If she runs to form, then only Appreciate It, who won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year by a staggering 18 lengths will give her a race. He has not been seen since, after niggling injuries prevented a chasing campaign, and comes here as a plan B.

Appreciate It’s Supreme time was only two seconds slower than Honeysuckle’s over the same course and distance. Considering he just cruised up the Cheltenham hill he could have bettered that time and so is a live danger. However, Honeysuckle has gears and Ferny Hollow out sped Appreciate It in the National Hunt flat race two years ago. I think the same will happen here.

With Honeysuckle hitting all the key trends and this being a strong race for favourites, I’m giving Honeysuckle the big BOOM!


Queen Mother Champion Chase

Shishkin

  • Form: 3/11/F111/11111-11
  • Best Price: 4/5

Key Trends:

  • 38% of favourites won since 2000
  • 12 of the last 14 winners were aged seven to 10 years old
  • Nine of the last 15 have been rated 167+

It’s the mouth-watering round two of Shishkin v Energumene, who served up the race of the season so far in the Clarence House where we witnessed a titanic battle with Shishkin outstaying his rival up the run-in by just one length.

Energumene had the right-handed track in his favour that day and Shishkin pecked on landing down the back straight, so, if both horses show up with their A-game, and jump, then Shishkin will win. If only it was that simple!

With an extra fence, sharper track and just 2 miles to cover (not 2m 1F like the Clarence), this may bring them closer together.

Everyone is calling it a two-horse race, but if Chacun Por Soi can produce his best he has a chance, especially with Willie Mullins tweaking his prep.

Nube Negra, who finished second last year, is no forlorn hope and could pick up the pieces if the pace in front is too quick.

Shishkin hits all the trends and I’m expecting to see his turbo kick in up the hill and he gets a big BOOM!


Ryanair Chase

Allaho

  • Form: 2/413/2213/6411-211
  • Best Price: 11/10

Key Trends:

  • 35% of favourites have won
  • 14 of last 14 runners were aged 7-10
  • 13 of the last 14 were rated 161+
  • 11 of the last 14 had previously won a Grade 1

For me, Allaho put up the most striking performance of last year’s Cheltenham Festival, going off hard in front and jumping his rivals into submission.

That impressive display, from the then seven-year-old marked him down as the most likely winner of this year’s race, and nothing has happened this year to change my opinion.

He will face Fakir D’oudairies again but has beaten him the last four times, and I don’t see any reason for a different outcome.

Mister Fisher was the one that travelled with intent in last year’s race but was forced into jumping mistakes by Allaho’s pace, however, if he can eradicate those errors he could threaten.

Shan Blue brings Grade 1 form having won the 3 mile Kauto Star Chase and had the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at his mercy before crashing two out. If he does pitch up here, he would be a big danger, but might not have the pace to overcome Allaho over this 2m 5F trip.

Allaho ticks all the key trends and looks like a big BOOM to me. At odds against of 11/10, he still looks value. Definitely one for the anchor in your Lucky 15!


Stayers’ Hurdle

Flooring Porter

  • Form: 7807/14162/132111-PF2
  • Best Price: 4/1

Key Trends:

  • 38% of favourites have won since 2000
  • 10 of the last 12 winners were aged six to eight
  • Eight of the last 13 had previously won a Grade 1
  • 11 of the last 13 had won a Grade 2

The Stayers’ has been an eventful division this year with Thyme Hill being run out of the Long Distance Hurdle by Champ, then Paisley Park eclipsing Champ to record a third win in the Cleeve Hurdle.

Over in Ireland Klassical Dream bolted up at Punchestown Festival last season and opened his account with victory over Flooring Porter at Christmas. Klassical nicked eight lengths at the start that day and only beat Flooring by under two lengths, with the two well clear.

With Champ and Klassical Dream underperforming in January, it has moved the reigning champion, Flooring Porter, up to market favourite.

With form figures this year of FP2, he doesn’t look the strongest of favourites but won this well last year when only six and is now very much in his prime, whereas Champ and Paisley Park are 10 years old and only one horse that age has won a Stayers’ in the last 50 years.

Klassical Dream is talented but quirky and is best fresh, and I do feel that run in mid-January has taken the edge off him.

Thyme Hill is the other solid option and is the right age, but just lacks tactical pace and might stay on, without getting to Flooring Porter.

This is a good race for repeat winners and despite this looking a wide-open event Flooring Porter hits all the key trends. He looks a BOOM at tasty odds of 4/1 and represents good value to include in any Lucky 15’s.


Gold Cup

A Plus Tard

  • Form: 12231/2121/3213/-12
  • Best Price: 7/2

Key Trends:

  • 43% of favourites won since 2000
  • 14 of the last 15 have been aged seven to nine
  • 11 of the last 15 won or placed in a Grade 1 race at last year’s Festival

After last seasons Gold Cup, where Minella Indo defeated A Plus Tard by 1.5 lengths, with the two well clear, my first impression was they would probably have the 2022 race between them unless something new joined the division.

A Plus Tard was seven years old last year and made a couple of small jumping errors. With a further year’s maturity, he will – in all likelihood – finish in front of Minella Indo this year, but not by much.

Al Boum Photo is admirable, but at 10 he is unlikely to get involved.

The two interesting improving horses are Galvin and Protektorat.

Galvin won the 3m 6F Staying chase last season and progressed this year by beating A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Christmas. His stamina for the 3m 2F Gold Cup test is proven and his tactical speed over a staying trip could be decisive.

Protektorat was a Grade 1 winner at Aintree last season and has won impressively around Cheltenham’s undulations. He came second in the valuable Paddy Power Handicap at Cheltenham in the November meeting over 2m 5F, where he stayed on strongly off a big weight, then stepped up to win impressively over 3 miles in the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.

Long Run won the Gold Cup the same year he came second in the same Paddy Power handicap, so Protektorat is in good company, and he looks like the unexposed progressive younger horse who could trouble the market leader.

A Plus Tard is the right age and has the class to win the Gold Cup, but I’m not convinced he is a strong stayer at the trip. That might not stop him, but Minella and Galvin could outstay him and Protektorat might just eclipse them all.

The odds of 7/2 are more than fair, and he ticks all the trend boxes, but for me A Plus Tard is a BUST!


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Thanks – Hanbury Racing

Author: Micheal May