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RacingBetter News
Wednesday 22nd December 2021
   
5 Key Battles for the 2022 Cheltenham Festival

As the focus is going on the winter horse racing meetings, it might surprise some jumps racing fans to learn that the Cheltenham Festival (15th – 18th March) is fewer than 100 days away. The national hunt showpiece just keeps growing in stature, and it seems like every race meeting between now and then is somehow a kind of warm-up. Even top-tier events like the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day are viewed within the context of their relationship with Cheltenham, although it’s still a great race in its own right.

In the coming weeks, there’s going to be a lot of talk about the 2022 Cheltenham Festival. And, as is always the case, the narrative will change as we get closer to the 13th of March. However, we believe we can pick out five key battles that will be talking points next March. These include battles between seasoned veterans, up-and-coming novices, top trainers, and, of course, two rival nations.

Britain vs. Ireland

One of the intriguing sub-plots at Cheltenham is the rivalry between British and Irish trainers. And at Cheltenham 2021, the Irish were so dominant that it threw British racing into an almost existential crisis. The Irish took 23 of the 28 races, an unprecedented tally that surely wasn’t a fluke. The big question this year is whether the British can fight back? Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Alan King, and others will all bring a formidable team to the Festival, but will it be enough? Surely, the first order of business will be to improve on the total from 2021.

Mullins vs. Elliott vs. de Bromhead

While the friendly rivalry between Britain and Ireland makes headlines at the Festival, it’s worth remembering that every trainer is in it for himself. And Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, and Henry de Bromhead all have huge chances of taking the top trainer award at Cheltenham. Horses trained by the three Irishmen are dominating the ante-post betting markets at the time of writing. So which wily trainer will prevail? Mullins is the master at Cheltenham, but others think that Gordon Elliott has better chances, particularly in the low-key handicaps. As with the last Festival, de Bromhead will be happy to play spoiler.

Shishkin vs. Energumene

This is an intriguing match-up for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. On the one hand, you have Shishkin, the imperious favourite, for whom the last couple of years have been impeccable. And on the other hand, you have Energumene, who has been untouchable in Ireland. But Energumene has never raced outside Ireland, never mind at Cheltenham, whereas Shishkin has won twice already at the Festival. Some say that Energumene has not been tested, while others say the horse has simply thrashed all opposition put in front of it. Regardless, this feels like it could be a classic.

Easysland vs. Tiger Roll

He couldn’t, could he? Tiger Roll is gunning for a sixth win at the Cheltenham Festival, which would put him level with Quevega on the all-time win list. While Tiger Roll won this race at the last Festival with Easysland finishing in second, there’s a firmer consensus behind Easysland at this stage in the season. Still, it’s going to be intriguing to watch. While Tiger Roll’s victory wasn’t a shock, few pundits expected him to do it in such dominating fashion. You just can’t rule him out, and that’s what is going to make this one of the must-see races of the Cheltenham Festival.

Minella Indo vs. A Plus Tard vs. Envoi Allen

We mentioned Henry de Bromhead in the battle of the trainers, and it is he who might have the last laugh with another victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The trainer has three of the five favourites in the ante-post betting for the Gold Cup – A Plus Tard, Minella Indo, and Envoi Allen – all of whom have great chances. Minella Indo took the race last March, of course, but A Plus Tard, who finished second, has the better form. Envoi Allen, meanwhile, is good enough to beat anyone on his day. Spare a thought for Rachael Blackmore, though, as de Bromhead’s principal jockey will have to choose between the trio. It’s a good problem to have.

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