Ireland dominated last year’s Cheltenham Festival meeting, winning all but five of the 28 races. The signs are that it is going to be a similar story in 2022 with Irish-trained runners favourite in the vast majority of races. Britain last won the Prestbury Park Cup for most wins at the festival in 2015, although the spoils were shared in 2019. We have picked out five key runners who will be vital in trying to restore some pride for the home team.
Constitution Hill (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
Not surprisingly, it is Nicky Henderson who spearheads the British defence with 70 Cheltenham Festival winners under his belt. Amid last year’s Irish dominance, the veteran Lambourn trainer still managed two winners courtesy of Shishkin and Chantry House. He is doubly represented in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Constitution Hill and Jonbon. Constitution Hill romped to a 12 lengths win in heavy ground in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle and the market strongly suggests that he is the pick of the Henderson duo.
Edwardstone (Arkle Chase)
Edwardstone has jumped his way to the head of the ante-post betting for the Arkle Chase. A smart performer over hurdles, he possesses a useful turn of foot and has won his last four starts after being brought down on his chasing debut. Alan King’s eight-year-old dislodged Blue Lord as market leader with his impressive victory over Third Time Lucki in Warwick’s Kingmaker Chase last weekend. King won the Arkle in successive seasons with Voy Por Ustedes (2006) and My Way De Solzen (2007) and has no doubt that Edwardstone is right up to that level.
Bravemansgame (Festival Novices’ Chase)
Paul Nicholls had reservations earlier in the season about subjecting Bravemansgame to a potentially gruelling race in the Festival Novices’ Chase. The bold-jumping son of Brave Mansonnien has been given the green light following an impressive weight-carrying performance at Newbury. There has been speculation that long-time ante-post favourite Galopin Des Champs may run in the Turner Novices’ Chase. In his absence, Bravemansgame would probably start at around 6-4 favourite to extend his unbeaten record over fences to five.
Shishkin (Queen Mother Champion Chase)
The rematch between Shishkin and Energumene in the Queen Mother Champion Chase has all of the ingredients for a classic encounter. Shishkin’s stamina earned him a one length victory over his big Irish rival in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase in January. He had the class to win the Supreme over hurdles and followed up in last season’s Arkle Chase. He is following a well-trodden path for Nicky Henderson’s top chasers including previous champions Sprinter Sacre and Altior. With Chacun Pour Soi also in the line-up, victory for Shishkin would be a huge boost for British-trained runners.
Champ (Stayers’ Hurdle)
The Stayers’ Hurdle looks wide open this year and British hopes include Champ. Thyme Hill and Paisley Park. A strong case can be made for each of them but the memory of Champ pulling double over his rivals at Ascot in December just sways us in his direction. He was out-pointed by Paisley Park last time but was not suited by the small field and was in front a long way out. Ante-post favourite Flooring Porter is one of several horses who like to force the pace so Champ should be able to sit in behind and deliver a late challenge.