Hector Steiff’s Cheltenham Bankers for Days One & Two of the Cheltenham Festival 2022

We are back at Prestbury Park for the ultimate challenge of the National Hunt season, the Cheltenham Festival. A feast of racing action over four days just as we emerge into the spring with over a quarter of a million spectators making their way to the Gloucestershire course. Here, some of the championship races to savour, and where to put your money as Ireland try to retain the Prestbury Cup for the third year running

The roar that announces the start of the Cheltenham Festival at 1.30 on Tuesday also starts a fascinating renewal of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. What the race lacks in numbers for this year’s opener, it more than makes up for in quality

Nicky Henderson holds a strong hand with Jonbon and Constitution Hill. Jonbon is, of course, a full brother to the outstanding Douvan, and may have better days ahead of him over fences. Constitution Hill has achieved a lofty mark of 148 in just three starts, one in points and two under rules, both at Sandown Park where he won by an aggregate of 26 lengths

The Irish quartet include Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Potter, while Willie Mullins is triple handed with Kilcruit, Dysart Dynamo and Bring On The Night. Kilcruit, second to Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper at last year’s Festival, seems to be finally making his mark over hurdles and should be in the thick of things, but Dysart Dynamo looks the stable first string with Paul Townend up in the saddle

A fascinating opener, but hard to see past the first two in the betting, with home hope Constitution Hill getting the nod

A typically competitive Arkle Challenge Trophy is next up on Tuesday, and Alan King’s Edwardstone is sure to attract plenty of support in search of the five-timer. He was especially impressive in his last two outings, the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton and the Kingmaker at Warwick, and might not have reached his full potential yet

Irish hopes lie with Willie Mullins Blue Lord and Gordon Elliott’s Riviere D’etel. Blue Lord has been a revelation since sent chasing this season, winning all three starts including a half length victory over Riviere D’etel at the Dublin Racing Festival. To be fair to Gordon Elliott’s charge, a mistake at the last cost her the race so the pair look evenly matched as they clash swords once more

In the final appraisal, Edwardstone gets the vote, since being brought down in his first start this term at Warwick, he has been flawless and there may be more to come

The Champion Hurdle is the feature on day one, and what a race is in store as the unbeaten Honeysuckle defends her title. She’s won the Irish equivalent race three years’ running, and is very much an odds on favourite to land this race again. However, if there’s any negative point to note, she is eight now and pretty well exposed, so possibly vulnerable to some younger legs

The challenge is likely to come from Ireland in the shape of Teahupoo from Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra stable, or Appreciate It lining up for Willie Mullins. It is a fair point that Henry de Bromhead’s County Waterford yard has hit a bit of a flat spot, so if Honeysuckle is for the taking, this is as good a chance as there’s likely to be.

Nicky Henderson’s Epatante is the best of the home team, and like Honeysuckle also gets a whopping 7lb sex allowance but does just look to fall short of the mark for this classy field. Appreciate It may well be the one to follow here, and makes his first start this season so it’s assumed that this has been the target from the master of Closutton

Day two of The Festival opens with the Ballymore, where Ireland can land the first blow with Sir Gerhard. After some deliberation, Willie Mullins chose to go for this longer trip for last year’s winner of the Champion Bumper. He’s a very short price in the ante-post markets but looks the Wednesday banker in the Cheveley Park Stud silks

Gordon Elliott’s Ginto is the most progressive of remainder of the Irish contingent, while Paul Nicholl’s Stage Star is the best of the home crop, but it’s hard to see past Sir Gerhard for this so first blood to Ireland on Wednesday

The best clash of the day awaits in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, where the home trio of L’homme Presse, Bravemansgame and Ahoy Senor line up against Irish raider Galopin Des Champs. They all arrive here with lofty reputations, and excepting Ahoy Senor all are unbeaten this season

Paul Nicholls has both Bravemansgame and Threeunderthrufive to choose from for this and the front running Threeunderthrufive is sure to make sure there’s plenty of pace in the race. However, Galopin Des Champs does look something out of the top drawer and knows his way around here having landed the Martin Pipe here last year, so gets preference over Bravemansgame who can chase him home

Wednesday is Champion Chase day, and it should all be about Shiskin. If, as expected, Ireland have a lead halfway through day two of The Festival, the home team can claw back some ground here. Nicky Henderson’s Shiskin is the real deal in the two mile chasing division, and as scintillating to watch in full flight at the great Sprinter Sacre from the very same Seven Barrows stable

Shiskin has already taken the scalp of Willie Mullins front-running Energumene, and there is no reason to expect those placings to reverse, and there are doubts over whether Chacun Pour Soi is as good here as he is on home soil. The biggest threat may come from the Skelton team’s Nube Negra, who might have won this last year had he got a clear passage on the run in when chasing down Put The Kettle On

Last year’s winner has not looked the force of old this season, so Nube Negra and Energumene to follow Shiskin home in a terrific renewal

This Preview has been brought to you by our occasional correspondent, Hector Steiff

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