The 2022 Cheltenham Festival is just 10 weeks away and in the run up to the greatest week of National Hunt action in the world there were plenty of clues to be had over the Christmas period.
The beginning of January enters a quiet period for National Hunt racing following a very busy week of action in both Britain and Ireland over Christmas.
In particular, the meetings at Kempton Park and Leopardstown saw plenty of the best chasers and hurdlers on display, many of which will not be seen again until Prestbury Park in the middle of March.
For the next couple of months, with a few exceptions, the most significant being the Dublin Racing Festival on the weekend of February 5th and 6th, top quality Jump racing will take a bit of a back seat, although there will be plenty of competitive handicaps and Graded races each Saturday, weather permitting.
Cheltenham Festival Eyecatchers
Several horses enhanced their Cheltenham Festival claims over a busy period of National Hunt action over the Christmas holidays, none more so than than the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin.
The unbeaten chaser, having his first outing of the season and evidently far from at the peak of his powers, simply destroyed Tingle Creek Chase winner Greaneteen in the Desert Orchid Chase and is now no bigger than 11/10 with Paddy Power for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The eagerly awaited clash between top staying novices Bravemansgame and Ahoy Senor in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase resulted in an easy victory for Paul Nicholls’ charge, although there is no guarantee the form will be confirmed at Cheltenham in the Festival Novices’ Chase, a race headed by Willie Mullins’ impressive Leopardstown scorer Galopin Des Champs, who is currently a top price 7/4 with bet365.
Following the wins of Tornado Flyer in the King George and Galvin in Ireland’s Savills Chase, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is beginning to look like a wide-open affair, although the victory of Klassical Dream (11/4 with William Hill) in the Christmas Hurdle now sets the standard for the Stayers’ Hurdle on the third day.
On the novice hurdle front there were easy successes for Sir Gerhard, Fil Dor and Journey With Me in Ireland, while Stage Star created a big impression when running away with Newbury’s Grade 1 Challow Hurdle.
Edwardstone’s victory in Kempton’s Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase puts Alan King’s charge at the head of the British challenge for the Arkle behind the mightily impressive Ferny Hollow, currently a best price 2/1 with bet365.
Chaser to Follow for 2022
Despite finishing last of the five finishers in the Coral Welsh Grand National there was plenty to like about the performance of the Evan Williams-trained eight-year-old who had won the previous renewal of the stamina test.
The Flemensfirth gelding was having his first outing for almost a year and with a far from ideal preparation. Holding every chance turning for home, the mount of Adam Wedge simply got tired in the closing stages and is sure to be much fitter for his next assignment.
Dropped 2lb by the handicapper to a mark of 138, Secret Reprieve could make up into a serious Grand National candidate come April after missing the cut last year and makes plenty of appeal at the current odds of 33/1 available with William Hill.
Hurdler to Follow for 2022
Having his first outing for trained Emmet Mullins in Leopardstown’s 27-runner Pertemps Qualifier last Tuesday, the 131-rated hurdler was the subject of strong late support and turning for home looked to have all of his rivals in trouble when taking the lead between the final two flights.
Unable to withhold the late challenge of the winner Panda Boy, Winter Fog looks the perfect type for one of the major handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival. Currently one of the 16/1 market leaders with bet365 for the Pertemps Final, the shorter Coral Cup may prove more suitable, for which the Papal Bull gelding is a 20/1 chance with Unibet.
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