Cheltenham Champion Hurdle: Honeysuckle tough to beat
Preview of the 2022 Cheltenham Champion Hurdle
The four-day Cheltenham Festival kicks off in style with the two-mile Champion Hurdle the feature contest on the opening day.
Irish-trained horses have walked away with the prize in six of the last 10 years, while a mare has won the last two renewals.
Honeysuckle claimed the top prize on Champions Day in 2021 and Henry de Bromhead’s superstar mare is the odds-on favourite to saunter to more success at Cheltenham 2022.
Here we take a look at Cheltenham betting and assess the claims of all 10 contenders for the 2022 Champion Hurdle.
Unbeaten in her racing career, Honeysuckle is looking for a third straight victory at the Cheltenham Festival and the defending champion heads the market having brought up a hat-trick of Irish Champion Hurdles at Leopardstown recently.
She landed a third Hatton’s Grace Hurdle when reappearing at Fairyhouse in November and she was in a class of her own once again at Leopardstown, taking her unbeaten tally to 14.
No one could lay a glove on the classy mare in 2021 as she drew further and further clear up the Cheltenham hill under big-race pilot Rachael Blackmore. She possesses that unique blend of speed, guts and stamina that it takes to excel in the Champion Hurdle and it will take a special performance from one of her rivals to lower her colours on Tuesday afternoon.
The unknown quantity in the Champion Hurdle line-up, last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner is one of the few Champion Hurdle candidates yet to square off against Honeysuckle.
Undoubtedly talented, the market could have it right and he could easily become Honeysuckle’s biggest challenger, although he is yet to be seen this season and it would take a phenomenal effort to land this first time out following a year on the sidelines.
The leading contender from Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra House stables, this graduate from the juvenile hurdle ranks is three from three over timber this season.
He has accounted for last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Quilixios three times this term and his most recent success in the Grade Three Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowan Park marked him out as a genuine player in this opening-day feature.
☕️ Teahupoo – still unbeaten this year
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) February 19, 2022
The Champion Hurdle winner in 2020, Nicky Henderson’s mare had no answer to Honeysuckle at both Prestbury Park and at Punchestown in 2021.
However, Henderson is optimistic she can turn the tables this season following a respectable campaign to date. She dead-heated for first when defending her Fighting Fifth title at Newcastle and then plundered more Grade One honours when a taking winner of Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day.
If things fall into place she could easily hit the frame.
Sent off favourite for the Triumph Hurdle in March, the previously unbeaten five-year-old could only finish fourth as he struggled to lay a glove on his rivals up the Cheltenham hill.
However, he has acquitted himself well in Grade One company this term and is well worth his place in this line-up. He chased home Honeysuckle at Leopardstown most recently and Elliott will be hoping he leaves his Prestbury Park demons in the past on Tuesday afternoon.
A County Hurdle winner at the Cheltenham Festival when a novice, he has won just once in the two years since and has been held every time he has stepped in to Grade One company.
Nevertheless, the free-going seven-year-old is given his chance in the Champion Hurdle having missed last year’s Festival and he could be tasked with setting the pace for stablemate Appreciate It.
The rise of Ann and Ian Hamilton’s underdog has been one of the stories of the National Hunt season and this northern raider appears obliged to take his chance in the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle following his first Graded success at Haydock, which took his unbeaten run to four.
One of just a handful of horses trained by the husband-and-wife combination, a win would be one of the moments of the year if he was to continue his winning run on the biggest stage of all.
Trainer Ann and owner Ian Hamilton are both in their 70s and only have four horses in training, including Champion Hurdle contender Tommy's Oscar… pic.twitter.com/qnDrXpryGB
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) January 30, 2022
Hughie Morrison’s 10-year-old may be one of the outsiders, but it was only two starts ago that he dead-heated for first with Epatante in the Fighting Fifth.
However, he disappointed at Kempton at Christmas and his ageing legs may struggle to live with the main protagonists at the business end of the contest.
Tom Lacey’s charge proved his second in the Christmas Hurdle was no fluke when carrying plenty of weight to victory in the Betfair Hurdle and there is every chance he could outrun his odds.
A win looks unlikely, but an honourable performance could be on the cards for the seven-year-old, who has appreciated a return to timber this season.
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All odds and market correct at date of publication