While there’s plenty of action for avid and casual National Hunt racing fans to enjoy at the Cheltenham Festival next month – it will be the four feature races which are rightfully front and centre.
With a combined winning prizemoney pot in excess of £1,000,000 on offer across the four fixtures – the Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle, Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup attracts some of the sport’s most elite trainers, jockeys and thoroughbreds.
This year is no exception, and with that in mind, read on as we take a look at the four favourites (at the time of writing) who will be vying to join Cheltenham’s famed roll of honour in each of the Festival’s preeminent contests.
Champion Hurdle – Constitution Hill
In what is considered to be the least competitive race of the four – many fans and pundits are of the belief that the winner of the Champion Hurdle is a forgone conclusion. The reason for that belief is the form of Constitution Hill, who is considered by those in the know to be the best hurdler since three-time Champion Hurdle victor Istabraq.
The six-year-old has dominated his competition since his maiden career victory in December of 2021 – with his Grade 1 outings particularly impressing. Since stepping up in competition, the Nicky Henderson-trained horse has won by a combined margin of 63 lengths – and in doing so – has established himself as Timeform’s highest-rated novice hurdler in its 74-year history (177p) – surpassing Golden Cygnet who previously boasted the record rating of 176.
For those interested in placing a bet on Constitution Hill to take home the spoils in the Champion Hurdle – he is extremely short in the Cheltenham betting odds at 1/4.
Queen Mother Champion Chase – Energumene
Looking to become the 11th horse to win back-to-back Queen Mother Champion Chases, the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene will need every ounce of his talent on the day if he is to justify his favourite’s tag and overcome what is a very deep field.
While he has had an extremely strong career to date, of which includes 11 wins in 14 starts, his most recent outing didn’t act as the ideal preparation for Cheltenham. The nine-year-old was beaten in an upset by Edwardstone and outsider Editeur Du Gite – both of whom he’ll line up against at Prestbury Park next month.
However, it was ultimately a blunder at the last which cost him at the Festival Trials Day – which his trainer believes was as a result of the white trim on the fences (previously orange). Therefore, if he can avoid making a similar mistake this time around, he certainly has a quick enough turn of foot and the finishing speed to write the wrongs of his run in January.
Energumene is currently garnering a price of 13/8.
Stayers’ Hurdle – Blazing Khal
Unbeaten in his last five starts, seven-year-old Blazing Khal is the Stayers’ Hurdle favourite at 3/1. While his winning streak is most certainly worth noting, only one of those triumphs has come in the last 15 months – with the Irish horse battling injuries for the majority of 2022.
Having not run last calendar year, naturally, questions began to surface as to whether he would be entering the three-mile affair a little underdone. He largely put those fears to bed in a Grade 2 hurdle at Navan earlier this month – reigning supreme in that contest by three lengths from Meet and Greet.
The Stayers’ Hurdle will be a whole other kettle of fish however, and given the field consists of the likes of Hatton’s Grace Hurdle winner Teahupoo – this is shaping up to be a pick em’ type affair.
Gold Cup – Galopin Des Champs
Having won seven of his last eight, the only blemish of which came after he fell at the last when in the lead by 12 lengths, and Galopin Des Champs will be taking exceptional form with him to Prestbury Park.
Despite his obvious talent, he still had plenty of detractors in the lead-up to the Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month. If there were doubts beforehand, there shouldn’t be anymore, as he answered the call and defeated reputable opposition in Fury Road, Kemboy and Stattler en route to an Irish Gold Cup victory.
Subsequent to Leopardstown, he has firmed in the betting lines, and at the time of writing, sits as a 3/2 favourite.