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Returning Champions – Festival Winners Hoping for More Glory in 2022

Last Year’s Cheltenham Champions Bidding to Go in Again

28. From the thousands of National Hunt horses in training, that’s how many can call themselves a reigning Cheltenham Festival winner. They say that Festival form counts for plenty and as a result, our racing expert Joe Eccles has checked out the winners from the Championship races last year that are aiming for more Festival success in 2022.

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Honeysuckle – Champion Hurdle  (Tuesday, March 15, 3:30)

There’s not much to write about HONEYSUCKLE that hasn’t already been said.

An exceptional mare who is yet to taste defeat in 14 hurdles outings, Honeysuckle supplemented a 2020 Mares’ Hurdle win when landing the Champion Hurdle 12 months ago.

Given an identical prep since, with a victory in the Hatton’s Grace followed by a third Irish Champion Hurdle win, Honeysuckle holds the highest rating in this field and receives 7lb from all but Epatante, who is officially 10lb her inferior, so it’s incredibly difficult to see anything posing her a serious challenge in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.

Verdict: Unblemished 14-14 since sent hurdling and that includes a victory in this race last year; highest-rated and impossible to oppose.

Super mare Honeysuckle aims to retain her Champion Hurdle crown.

Super mare Honeysuckle aims to retain her Champion Hurdle crown.

Put The Kettle On – Queen Mother Champion Chase  (Wednesday, March 16, 3:30)

Few horses have a Festival resume quite like PUT THE KETTLE ON, who added to her 2020 Arkle victory when landing the Queen Mother Champion Chase last year.

At the time that brought Put The Kettle On’s form figures at Cheltenham to an impressive 1111, but Henry De Bromhead’s mare simply hasn’t been in the same form since that win.

A beaten favourite in the Shloer Chase on seasonal reappearance in November (her first defeat at Cheltenham), Put The Kettle On followed that run up with a last of five finish in a Grade 3 Mares Chase at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day.

That was hardly the ideal prep with Cheltenham in mind and the return to Prestbury Park will need to bring about monumental improvement for her to play a part here in what looks like the hottest Champion Chase in recent memory.

Verdict: Brought her record here to 4-4 with a victory last year but she’s 0-3 since and that includes a defeat at this track; looks the least likely of the 2021 Championship race winners to follow up.

Allaho Ryanair Chase  (Thursday, March 17, 2:50)

Undoubtedly one of the most impressive winners at last year’s Festival, ALLAHO has campaigned with a return bid at Prestbury Park firmly in mind.

The Cheveley Park owned 8yo has won both starts this season, building on a John Durkan victory when landing a Thurles Grade 2 in January, form which has been franked since.

That victory produced an RPR of 178, which matched his Ryanair figure, and simply put if Allaho turns up in that vein of form next week he will not be beaten.

Verdict: Demolished a smart field 12 months ago and has enhanced his reputation since; shouldn’t be anything in this field capable of living with him.

Allaho ran his rivals ragged in the Ryanair last year and aims to follow up in 2022.

Allaho ran his rivals ragged in the Ryanair last year and aims to follow up in 2022.

Flooring Porter – Stayers’ Hurdle  (Thursday, March 17, 3:30)

The enigmatic FLOORING PORTER has been called a few names down the years but he enjoyed a terrific 2020/21 campaign, culminating in his all the way Stayers’ Hurdle success.

Although failing to complete in his next two starts, Flooring Porter bounced back when chasing home Klassical Dream at Leopardstown over Christmas, and that run is expected to have teed him up for a tilt at retaining his Stayers’ crown.

The concern for backers however is that this keen sort enjoyed his best campaign when there was a lack of fans in attendance, and that looks no coincidence. Whilst he has the form to play a part, the huge crowd in attendance could lead to Gavin Cromwell’s charge losing his race on the way to the start, and therefore at the prices, he looks worth opposing.

Verdict: Back to form last time but he’s a quirky sort who could lose his race on the way to the start; this is tougher than 12 months ago.

Minella Indo Cheltenham Gold Cup  (Friday, March 18, 3:30)

2019 Albert Bartlett winner, and 2020 RSA runner-up, MINELLA INDO continued his Festival love affair with victory in last year’s Gold Cup, holding off the challenge of stablemate A Plus Tard.

Unfortunately, that victory appears to have taken a bit out of Minella Indo, however, who failed to complete in Kempton’s King George on Boxing Day.

Supporters were given room for optimism when Minella Indo chased home Conflated in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last time, yet that run was still a fair way off his best and the return to Cheltenham needs to bring about a jolt of improvement from Minella Indo.

Verdict: Not at his best since last season’s Gold Cup win and whilst the return to this track could bring about improvement, it will need to for him to land this.