Cheltenham 2022

Charlie McCann: Review of Cheltenham Festival 2022


Tuesday

The brilliant opening day successes of Constitution Hill and Edwardstone got us off to a flyer, but it was largely downhill after that, and we ended the day just £0.85p ahead to £1 level stakes.

Constitution Hill was sensational in the Supreme Novices’ but why on God’s earth would you even consider going to Ireland to face the wonder mare Honeysuckle in her own back yard at this stage of his development?

As a native of Liverpool, I am disappointed that Aintree does not appear to be on the radar of many – if any – of the Cheltenham winners despite the fact that there is three weeks – which is the norm – between the meetings and you are almost guaranteed beautiful ground.

Yes, I am biased but Constitution Hill’s time to take on the mare is next season. There will be 24 days between the Supreme and the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle over 2m on the Friday of Aintree. Owner Michael Buckley has hinted that he will see how the horse is about the time of the National meeting before deciding if he goes to Punchestown. He has only had three races so far this term and while I think he will beat Honeysuckle if, and when, the pair meet, I do not believe it should be an away fixture as a novice.

Gericault Roque continues to run well in defeat, but I must admit my each way antepost recommendation of Doctor Duffy was indeed duff.

Appreciate It without the mare was another poor recommendation in the Champion Hurdle while in the Boodles Gaelic Warrior hit the bar in second. My other recommendation Saint Segal tanked through the race and, if he ever learns to settle, he will be better than a handicapper. But that is a big IF.

Day One: +0.85p to £1 level stakes

Wednesday

Another good start to the day with Three Stripe Life “winning his race” without Sir Gerhard at 5/2 in the Ballymore although he did drift to a bigger price.

Gordon Elliot will have been pleased with the run of Three Stripe Life, but he had a below par meeting and he and stable jockey Davy Russell must still be thinking what might have been had Farouk D’alene – recommended at 20/1 – not come down at the second last when holding every chance in the Brown Advisory.

Looking back at the race again I feel he would have been second at worst, but also second at best to be honest as I was impressed with the way L’Homme Presse picked up again halfway up the run in.

The rain was an obvious plus for Farouk D’alene, but I was slightly surprised that the Philip Hobbs trained Comprond – recommended at 12s for the Coral Cup – was not a late withdrawal on account of the soft/heavy ground. In the circumstances he ran a tremendous race to finish fourth and he would be one to consider for Aintree although he is likely to go up a couple of pounds for the run.

Shishkin bombed out in the Champion Chase, and I agree he was beaten going to the first – but why? We may never know but a top-class horse should not be beaten after 100 yards. I will be surprised if we see him again this season although the Martell Cup would be his for the taking if he rocks up on Merseyside.

Tiger Roll went out on his shield in the X-Country after another magnificent run on ground softer than ideal. Stablemate Delta Work is a top-class horse who dwarfed his stablemate, but the Tiger has the heart of a lion. Let’s hope he has a long and happy retirement.

Paul Nicholls took out both McFabulous and Thyme White on account of the ground, but the fluent win of Facile Vega in the Champion Bumper ensured another winning day.

Day 2: +£3.47 to £1 level stakes running total +£4.32

Thursday

I thought the only slice of luck we had all week was in the Turners – although it was a huge piece – when Bob Olinger was a fortunate winner having been thrashed by Galopin Des Champs. Throughout the race I felt a right Charlie for deserting the Mullins horse at the 11th hour especially having put the horse up for the 2023 Gold Cup at 8/1 previously.

As things stand, he is as likely to go for the Champion Chase as the Gold Cup if you listen to his trainer in the immediate aftermath of the race. It will be fascinating to see what his target will be at Punchestown. I for one wouldn’t wish to second guess Willie’s plans but it was great to see him walk away from the spill after it looked at one stage as if he suffered a serious injury.

What next for Bob Olinger? He is not a natural chaser but his head carriage on the run in suggested to me something was amiss. One to avoid until we have concrete evidence that he is the same horse that was so impressive in the Ballymore last season.

Our 12/1 antepasts selection Alaphilippe (12/1) ran a cracker in the Pertemps to finish runner up and our day of the race EW recommendation If The Cap Fits nicked a place (6th) at 33/1. A good result with the winner – Third Wind – correctly keeping the race in the Stewards’ Room.

Things started to go downhill when Conflated – put in at 5/2 to win the race without Allaho – fell two out when it looked as if he had been ridden to pick up the pieces in the Ryanair. I would have been disappointed if the Irish Gold Cup winner – who had just gone second at the time of his departure – not confirmed Leopardstown form with Conflated who he had 6L in hand of on his penultimate start.

At one stage I got excited about the prospects of Champ coming down the hill in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, but the bottom line is Danny Mullins rode his peers to sleep on Flooring Porter. Jonjo O’Neill took a pull on the horse coming down the hill, but for the second time in a row he finished weakly. Still no harm done at 5/1 EW 4 places.

Runner up Imperial Alcazar did not jump as well as he can in the Plate – recommended at 6/1 EW – and I was surprised that he was still in there pitching going to the last. He and winner Coole Cody – jumped right at times – were in the van throughout and I’m not convinced it was a great renewal with the field declared on good ground on Tuesday. That said I thought Slate House absolutely tanked his way through the race and he is one I think may be up to winning this spring. Colin Tizzard had a number of runners run well in defeat during the week.

Having given Love Envoi such a good word in the Mares Novices’ Hurdle I am still kicking myself for deserting her in favour of talking horse Dinoblue and my mood got no better when Come On Teddy didn’t jump a twig in the Kim Muir.

Day 3: +£3.10 to £1 level stakes running total +£7.42

Friday

Pied Piper ran a very good race in the Triumph, but he was no match for Vauban with Fil Dor splitting the pair in a 1-2-3 for Ireland. It looked a good renewal, and the British trainers will be hoping that the trio stay at home for Aintree.

If I was disappointed for not recommending Love Envoi on Day 3, I was spitting feathers when State Man ran away with the County Hurdle. I was told to back him in whatever race he ran in at the Festival, but I think I was still suffering from Dinoblueitis when I overlooked him. He was a Grade 1 winner-in-waiting running in a handicap.

West Cork did, however, land the each way money in the race for the Skeltons and it is incredible that Mullins or Skelton have now won seven of the last eight renewals of this competitive handicap.

Six of our seven recommendations finished in the frame on the final day. The exception was the ill-fated Ginto who looked to be going best of all when breaking down on the run to the last in the Albert Bartlett. Despite two winners over the week, it summed up Gordon Elliot’s Festival.

I didn’t think they went a strong gallop in the Gold Cup and my initial reaction was that they gifted the Gold Cup to the doubtful stayer A Plus Tard, but the clock suggested it was a magnificent performance and I did not think any horse would be able to put 15L between himself and Minella Indo up the Cheltenham hill.

It was a run on a par with that of Constitution Hill for its sheer brilliance with the horse given a patient ride by Rachel Blackmore a sentiment I’m not convinced could be said of the one given to Galvin by Davy Russell although the fact that the latter was unable to pass Protektorat on the run in was disappointing.

Still both our EW recommendations – Minella Indo antepost – hit the frame so no harm done other than the fact that I was completely wrong about the magnificent winner.

Our two recommendations in the Foxhunters hit the frame with Winged Leader just touched off by Billaway who was given a never-say-die ride by Patrick Mullins. Willie Mullins saddled an extraordinary five winners on Friday and our day four nap Elimay was the last of those in the Mares’ Chase. I was confident throughout the race although I had been drinking – responsibly of course – during racing and looking back perhaps he didn’t win quite as easily as I proudly suggested to those within earshot.

Hollow Games – if I remember correctly – never looked like winning the Martin Pipe but was another to comfortably make the frame and give us a fourth successive winning day.

If Willie Mullins gave himself seven out of ten for his week, then I would give myself a 6.5 or a pass but I can’t help but think we left a couple of quid in the satchels.

All over for another year – but roll-on Aintree!

Day 4: +£2.65 to £1 level stakes – running total for the week +£10.07

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