As we enter 2022, and with an action-packed festive period of racing — which was headlined by the Welsh Grand National and the Kempton and Leopardstown Christmas Festivals — behind us, excitement is already starting to grow for this year’s renewal of the Cheltenham Festival.
There’s nothing quite like the four-day, Prestbury Park meeting and it looks like this year’s prestigious Festival is going to go ahead with a full capacity crowd for the first time since March 2020 — when the true extent of coronavirus was only starting to be felt around the United Kingdom.
With the early entries for some of the Cheltenham Festival’s biggest races, including the Gold Cup, Champion Chase and Ryanair Chase, recently being revealed, the anticipation for the meeting was only ramped up further.
Of course, with the cards now out, there’s plenty to digest. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the key talking points…
Henry de Bromhead’s duo set to reignite Gold Cup rivalry
It was a Cheltenham Festival to remember for Henry de Bromhead last year. After winning several big races, including the Champion Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Irish trainer wrapped the week up with an impressive 1-2 in the Gold Cup. A Plus Tard and Rachael Blackmore were heavily backed by those who bet on horse racing to deny Al Boum Photo an historic hat-trick. However, Minella Indo and the young Jack Kennedy caused an upset — beating A Plus Tard over the line by little more than a length. This season’s form cards suggest that A Plus Tard will be no match for his stablemate in March, but you just can’t rule the nine-year-old out.
Galvin could be a thorn in De Bromhead’s side
While the main focus is on the internal rivalry between the Irish trainer’s prized assets, Galvin is being criminally overlooked. The Gordon Elliott-trained horse, who won the Grade 2 National Hunt Challenge Cup at Cheltenham last year, has been in fine form so far this season, winning his seasonal reappearance at Punchestown before beating A Plus Tard by a shorthead in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival — landing his biggest victory yet. While the spotlight is on A Plus Tard v Minella Indo, perhaps Galvin is the formers biggest threat.
No Gold Cup place for Frodon
The 2021 renewal of the Cheltenham Festival was a year to forget for Paul Nicholls. The recent Irish dominance at Prestbury Park has taken its toll on the top English trainers, and the six-time Cheltenham leading trainer left the Cotswolds without a single victory. Maybe cutting his losses already this year, the 59-year-old has denied fan favourite Frodon a fifth successive appearance at the meeting. After finishing 34 lengths behind the leader in last year’s showpiece, it is arguably for the best.
Shishkin has stiff competition in the Champion Chase
Shishkin breezed his way through the Queen Mother Champion Chase last year, beating Eldorado Allen by some 12 lengths in the two-mile outing. The Nicky Henderson-trained horse arguably benefitted from the withdrawal of Enegumene, but this year the pair look set to go head-to-head and their unbeaten chasing records will be on the line. They could clash at Ascot in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase later this month first, with the Champion Chase being the decider.
Allaho set to stroll to victory in the Ryanair Chase (again)
Allaho flew to a 12-length victory over Fakir D’oudairies in the Ryanair Chase last year and the seven-year-old looks set to emulate that success again in March. The Mullins-trained horse is the outright favourite to win the two-mile, four-and-a-half-furlong race at 2/1 with last year’s rival someway behind at 10/1. The Irish trainer does have his options, as he also holds entries in the Queen Mother and the Gold Cup. However, it seems nailed on that Allaho will go out to defend his Ryanair crown.