It’s that time of year again — the Cheltenham Festival. As we approach one of the biggest weeks on the horse racing calendar, anticipation is building as spectators are finally allowed to return to racetracks for the first time at Prestbury Park since 2020. Looking back, it’s still hard to believe that the country’s first national lockdown came just weeks later, and the Festival was really the last major sporting event to amass large crowds for the best part of 18 months.
As some normality is finally resumed, Cheltenham is back, and after last year’s meeting took place behind closed doors, the roar of the crowd can finally return for the big Grade One races — particularly the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle.
Last year, we saw Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle won the Champion Hurdle in emphatic style, maintaining an unbeaten record that is still in tact today. And while that would usually means she is a shoo-in to retain his title in the Cheltenham betting 2022 odds, but the performances of the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate it have certainly caught the eye, racking up wins to make the race an interesting proposition. Read on, as we look at both contenders and assess who has the best chance at this year’s Champion Hurdle.
As great as Honeysuckle has been, you could argue that Appreciate it would be the standout favourite in any other year, such is the eight-year-old’s impressive winning run thanks to the experience of Mullins. Despite not racing in over a year by the time Cheltenham comes round, judging by his win last year in the Novices’ Hurdle and at Leopardstown in the Future Champions, you can see Appreciate it has all the makings of a Grade One champion — one that is being backed for big things in the Cheltenham Ladies Day tips.
Whether his lack of recent runs will come back to bite him or not, Mullins certainly has faith in his arsenal and with Paul Townend aboard, there’s every chance they can snatch a win. The jockey spoke highly of Appreciate it ahead of Cheltenham, saying: “I was as disappointed as anyone I wasn’t on him this weekend, I’m itching to get on his back.”
It can be hard to talk about Honeysuckle at times, as you simply run out of superlatives to describe the mare’s brilliance. So often in sport, a champion is defined by the legacy they leave behind, and the records they picked up along the way, well as far as Honeysuckle is concerned, the eight-year-old is en route to become one of the greats, having been unbeaten in 14 races so far under Henry de Bromhead. The Irish trainer took home an impressive Cheltenham treble, completing a clean sweep for the stable thanks to a great run from Honeysuckle, comfortably seeing off 2020 champion Sharjah as well as Nick Henderson’s Epatante.
Blackmore also deserves some credit for her influence on the track. In a variety of different conditions and against some tough opponents, the duo have managed to stay head and shoulders above the competition, with a win in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown getting the year off to a great start. As far as Cheltenham is concerned, you’d find it hard to not back Honeysuckle given her impressive record, but given the unpredictability of the big day, there’s always an outside chance Appreciate it can pip the victory or a shock winner can emerge out of no where no steal the show.