The 5 Big Stories In the Lead Up to the 2022 Cheltenham Festival
The 2022 Cheltenham Festival (15th – 18th March) is approaching, and we are starting to see some of the narratives take shape for the prestigious national hunt event. We are, as they say, “on the road to Cheltenham”, and every major jumps race between now and the 15th March is judged through the context of its meaning for the Festival.
As ever, there are several intigruing stories dominating the build-up to the main event, not just covering the runners and riders, but the wider scope of British and Irish jumps racing. So what has been generating the buzz for Cheltenham 2022? Below we dive into five of the big stories:
Shishkin vs. Energumene, Round 2
Arguably the biggest dilemma for racing tipsters making predictions for Day 2 at Cheltenham is choosing between Shishkin and Energumene in the Champion Chase. We got an appetizer when the pair clashed at Ascot in the Clarence House Chase in January, and it’s not an exaggeration to say they delivered one of the best races this decade. Shishkin came out on top, but Nicky Henderson’s superstar chaser had to dig ever so deep for the victory. Can Energumene turn things around for the big one on Ladies’ Day at Cheltenham? That’s what everyone can’t wait to find out. But make no mistake: this could be a race for the ages.
While Shishkin is arguably the best jumps horse on the planet right now, he represents one of the few bright spots for British trainers. The Irish dominated Cheltenham last year, winning 23 of the 28 races in a rout that British racing authorities are still reeling from today. When looking at the form guide and antepost favourites, you would have to fancy the Irish to come home with most of the spoils again. The rivalry between Britain and Ireland is fierce (but friendly) at Cheltenham, but the latter is clearly in the ascendency. Can British trainers scrabble together enough wins to regain some respectability? It’s Cheltenham, so anything can happen.
Rachael, Rachael, Rachael
The best jumps jockey in the world? Probably. Rachael Blackmore became a superstar last year when setting various records for a female jockey at the Festival, including becoming the first female Top Jockey and first female winner of the Champion Hurdle (and she added the Grand National a month later for good measure). But in 2022, it is something of a different ball game. She is now the star attraction for many racing fans, and that adds extra layers of pressure. From what we have seen of Blackmore so far, she will relish it, however.
Gold Cup Conundrum
Speaking of Blackmore, she is likely to ride the current Gold Cup favourite A Plus Tard. Such is her popularirty on both sides of the Irish Sea, you are likely to hear the cheers all the way in her native Tipperary if she does become the first woman to ride a Gold Cup winner. However, some might wonder if A Plus Tard deserves to be the market leader. The talent is there, undoubtedly, but the same could be said for a host of others on the card. It makes for an intriguing race, and it could just rival the Champion Chase for drama this year.
Six Wins for Tiger Roll?
The two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll is getting on in years, but he can always deliver on the grand stage at Cheltenham. He has done so five times, in fact, equalling the record of the legendary Golden Miller. Only one horse has six victories at Cheltenham – the star mare Quevega. But Tiger Roll has the chance to draw level this year. The formbook says he can’t win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, but this once-in-a-generation horse has made a mockery of such arguments before. History beckons.