Widely considered to be the highest quality race of its type, the Champion Hurdle is one of the showpiece races at the Cheltenham Festival, as anticipation builds over its return. Spectators are expected to be in attendance after last year’s meeting was forced behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
You’d have to go back almost two years for when the Champion Hurdle was run with the stands packed at Cheltenham, where the country was blissfully unaware a national lockdown was just weeks away, with so much changing in the Cheltenham betting odds since. With the race back on the horizon, we thought we’d flash forward to March’s two mile, 87-yard spectacle and make some early predictions for the 2022 Cheltenham Champion Hurdle.
Honeysuckle a clear favourite
Its clear to see that Honeysuckle comes into this year’s race as the obvious favourite. Having won last year’s Champion Hurdle emphatically, seeing off the likes of Sharjah and Epatantein the process, it will be interesting to see if the eight-year-old’s mercurial run of form continues in a race where she is certainly put to the test.
Rachael Blackmore was the jockey responsible for victory last time out and the Henry de Bromhead-trained horse has shown consistency ever since, propelling Blackmore into racing superstardom with further wins in the Grand National and World Sports Star in the Sports Personality of the Year awards.
“Absolutely incredible,” she said: “I’m speechless to be honest. I can’t believe we just won the Champion Hurdle. It’s unbelievable for everyone in the yard.” She goes on to thank any number of people in De Bromhead’s yard.
“She’s so straightforward to ride. It’s very easy to do things when you know you’ve a big engine underneath you. I don’t know what to say, I can’t believe we’ve won the Champion Hurdle.”
Epatante has something to prove
It will be a race that could either make or break the Nicky Henderson-trained Epatante, who comes into the race off the back of successive Grade One wins including victory in the Christmas Hurdle. It will certainly be a big task to dislodge Honeysuckle, one the eight-year-old has come up short in previously, but the win at Kempton will certainly give Henderson that added boost of confidence heading into Cheltenham — perhaps with a bit of luck they could push for top spot and the £190,000 prize.
Judging off the last victory on Boxing Day, where he pressed throughout and eventually went clear approaching last hurdle, Epatante can give De Bromhead and co. a run for their money, but that’s not to count out an outsider who could very easily upset the Cheltenham racing tips.
Third time lucky for Silver Streak?
Inconsistency has been a big theme of Silver Streak’s recent races. Having burst onto the scene by winning the 2020 Christmas Hurdle in a massive upset, the Evan Williams-trained horse has failed to pick up a Grade One victory, but has come tantalisingly close on the last couple of occasions — Kempton and Newcastle both providing opportunities for the eight-year-old to win, but being forced to settle for a podium place followed by fourth.
Having lacked fluidity and longevity for far too long, and demonstrating that he can cause an upset under the right circumstances, we can see Silver Streak being a real nuisance for the favourites, but whether he can finally get over the line with Adam Wedge at Cheltenham remains to be seen.