IRISH eyes were certainly smiling at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival when the visitors won a record 23 out of the 28 races at the meeting. That included victories in all of the showpiece events, such as the Champion Hurdle (Honeysuckle), Champion Chase (Put The Kettle On), Stayers’ Hurdle (Flooring Porter) and the Gold Cup (Minella Indo).
We have taken a look at six leading contenders who can help continue the Irish dominance at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival.
Honeysuckle – Champion Hurdle – 1/2 favourite with Betfair
The Henry De Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle has carried all before her during her illustrious career, winning all 14 of her starts under Rules. Kenny Alexander’s mare was a brilliant winner of this event last term, backing up her win at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival in the Mares’ Hurdle. She now chases a third successive victory at the meeting and a second win in this contest.
Under regular partner Rachael Blackmore, the eight-year-old has oozed class in her two runs this season, winning a third Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, before recording a third victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle. 1/2 favourite with Betfair to retain her crown, she should take an awful lot of beating in this event and is taken to see off the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It.
Allaho – Ryanair Chase – 8/11 favourite
Closutton maestro Willie Mullins rates Allaho as his “banker” of the week and he looks a tough nut to crack in the Ryanair Chase. He was a brilliant winner of this event 12 months, recording a 16-length success in a brutal front-running display under Rachael Blackmore. Only seen twice so far this term, he latterly captured the John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown with a gutsy success and he has been kept fresh for this assignment. The eight-year-old also looks to have scared off most of his opposition and a similar front-running rout from the front could be likely.
Facile Vega – Champion Bumper – 11/10 favourite
The first foal out of legendary racemare Quevega who recorded six straight victories in the Mares’ Hurdle. Facile Vega has carried all before him this season, backing up a smooth six-length victory on debut at Leopardstown, with a stunning 12-length victory at the Dublin Racing Festival in February. The five-year-old powered into contention entering the home straight and quickened up in the manner of a potential superstar. With fellow Irish-trained runners American Mike and Redemption Day towards the top of the betting, this contest looks set to head back to the emerald isle.
Bob Olinger – Turners Novices’ Chase – 4/5 favourite
This contest promises to be one of the match-ups of the meeting. Bob Olinger was a brilliant winner of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and has won both of his starts over fences at Gowran Park and Punchestown. Despite a number of novicey leaps at Gowran Park in particular, there is no doubting his engine and he is a leading player for Henry De Bromhead. However, in Galopin Des Champs he has a formidable rival. He was sensational when making a winning chasing debut at Leopardstown in December and followed that up with a facile nine-length win in Grade One company at the Dublin Racing Festival. Jumping is his biggest asset and it may just prove crucial in this event.
Vauban – Triumph Hurdle – 7/4 favourite
Beaten on debut for Willie Mullins by Pied Piper at Punchestown, he highlighted his ability when a facile winner of a Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival. The four-year-old is highly regarded by Mullins and is taken to win this event at the expense of fellow Irish runners Pied Piper and Fil Dor.
A Plus Tard – Cheltenham Gold Cup – 5/2 favourite
Jump racing’s Blue Riband event once again sees Ireland hold a strong hand with the 2021 1-2 Minella Indo and A Plus Tard representing Henry De Bromhead. A Plus Tard has since impressively landed the Betfair Chase, before being narrowly beaten in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December to fellow Gold Cup contender Galvin. However, A Plus Tard proved in last year’s race that he stays the three and a quarter-mile trip of the Gold Cup and he is taken to come out on top this year. As already alluded to, the presence of defending champion Minella Indo, two-time winner Al Boum Photo and the improving Galvin once again emphasise the Irish stranglehold on this event.