Hector Steiff’s Cheltenham Bankers for Thursday & Friday of the Cheltenham Festival 2022

Thursday and Friday of the 2022 Cheltenham festival, and an historic one too, with full crowds returning as Covid lockdowns fade to a distant and welcome memory. Plenty of fine racing lies in store, and the small matter of St. Patrick’s Day falling neatly into the middle of Festival week, so the strong Irish team should get plenty of support, both vocal and financial! Here, we look forward to the pick of the action on days three and four

The Turners Novices’ Chase, better known as the Golden Miller, heralds a field of just four for Thursday’s opener. In truth, though, it’s a match between two previous Cheltenham winners, Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs. What a clash it is too, the Ballymore victor against the Martin Pipe winner from 2021

Bob Olinger is sure to attract plenty of support after a flawless campaign, winning at Gowran Park before bolting up at Punchestown in January. He’s since been aimed at this race so with the Champion Hurdle already under her belt, Rachael Blackmore will be in search of more glory here

However, in Willie Mullins’ Galopin Des Champs, he has to take on one of the most exciting novice chasers from either side of the Irish Sea. Galopin Des Champs was impressive enough in the Martin Pipe at last year’s Festival, but is even more exciting over fences, jumping with gay abandon, scintillating to watch at full stretch. It’s the jumping that will land this prize, and Galopin Des Champs wins that battle hands down

The Ryanair Chase can go to defending champion, Allaho. Romping home by 12 lengths last year, he’s arguably even better this season, with the Garde 1 John Durkan and the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase already in the bag. The Cheltenham Festival is the showpiece of National Hunt racing, and there’s no better advertisement for the sport than this magnificent gelding

The Stayers’ Hurdle of 2022 is a red hot renewal, and on a card packed with quality racing, deserving of it’s place as Thursday’s feature. Last year’s surprise winner, Flooring Porter, returns to defend the title having yet to make it to the winners’ enclosure this season, falling on his seasonal reappearance at Navan before a 2 length runner-up to Klassical Dream in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown

Flooring Porter is going to have his work cut this year, with not just Klassical Dream lining up but with previous winner Paisley Park attempting to regain the title he took in 2019 to add to the three Cleeve Hurdles over C&D he has in the formbook. He’s a 10 year old now, but still a class act so is respected. The young pretender to his crown in recent years has been Thyme Hill, and Philip Hobbs’ charge is also highly rated having followed Champ home in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot back in December

Champ carries high hopes himself, having been returned to hurdles this season and looking as if there’s yet more to come in this sphere. Nicky Henderson’s slightly accident prone chaser is a top class hurdler and just adds spice to this red hot renewal. Preference, though, is for Klassical Dream, whose course form around here after landing the Supreme Novices in 2019 and recent win over a too keen Flooring Porter gives him the form edge. A classic race in prospect

Friday, the fourth and last day of the Festival, and it’s Gold Cup day. However, before then, the card opens with the JCB Triumph Hurdle, the leading juvenile race of the season. This year’s renewal is a classic, and there’ll be plenty of divided loyalties in the betting here, depending on which side of the Irish Sea you watch your racing

Leading the raiding party is Willie Mullins’ Vauban, featuring in Rich Ricci’s standout pink silks. A decent performer on the flat, with wins on heavy through to soft ground, his French heritage should stand him well after Wednesday’s deluge. He won the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown 3 lengths clear of the re-opposing Fil Dor, who has Davy Russell choosing the grey as his preferred mount

Gordon Elliott has Fil Dor’s stablemate, Pied Piper, lining up as well, and he has form over Vauban from a maiden hurdle at Punchestown back in December. So, for the leading Irish trio, it may pay to stick with the in-form Willie Mullins whose younger horses seem to be on song this week

The home team might be further down in the betting but are not without hope for this absorbing race. Gary Moore has his string in fine fettle, and in Porticello has a live chance of getting into the money, even if the form in the book looks a notch short of the raiding party. Milton Harris has had an outstanding season, and in Knight Salute has one to note. However, it’s been a busy season, and he arrives here on a six-timer after landing the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. If the intensity of racing doesn’t catch up with him, then the soft ground just might, and that earns him a negative point in the final appraisal

It looks a race that will be dominated by the Irish raiders, with the softer ground in the second half of the Festival week playing into their hands. Vauban is the one to follow here, with the home team’s Porticello making super each way appeal

It’s a Gold Cup to savour this year, but the trophy looks certain to head back to Ireland, with the raiding party dominating the ante-post markets. Last year’s winner Minella Indo, who saw off stablemate A Plus Tard up the hill hasn’t seemed to really fire this season, but has a fine course record so has to enter calculations. A Plus Tard also runs well here, wining the 2019 Close Brothers Novices’ Chase by an extraordinary 16 lengths, and finished runner-up in this race last year with credit

After a flat spot at Henry de Bromhead’s County Waterford yard earlier this year, things seem to have picked up at the crucial time, as witnessed in Honeysuckle’s superlative defence of her Champion Hurdle title on Tuesday. A Plus Tard has to be taken very seriously for this year’s renewal with the superb Rachael Blackmore back in the saddle. The horse that took the shine of A Plus Tard’s season is Galvin, Gordon Elliott’s Savills Chase winner, who just seems to uncannily find something extra every time he runs

The best of the home team has to be Dan Skelton’s Protektorat. The young trainer gets markedly better every year, and clearly had a superb apprenticeship under multiple Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls, and his charge has course form to boot. At seven years old, and with just the seven starts over fences to his name, there may yet be more to come and he’s the each way pick

In a top class renewal of the blue riband, A Plus Tard is taken to reverse the Savills Chase placings with Galvin, and Protektorat can chase the pair home

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

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