By HRI Foreign Staff — The 2021 Cheltenham Festival was an extraordinarily good one for Irish trainers, who left the Festival with no fewer than 23 victories from 28 races. However, that record-breaking haul also meant that it was the worst-ever Cheltenham for the “home team”, and it caused something akin to an existential crisis in British jumps racing.
Cheltenham Festival has become a true, world class event on the modern day calendar
Nonetheless, the British have a chance to strike back at the 2022 Festival (15th-18th March), or at least get a little closer to parity with their rivals from across the Irish Sea. But is that truly possible? The strength and depth of Irish jumps racing is incredible right now. And if we are going by the formbook, it could be another record-breaking Festival for the men and women from the Emerald Isle.
Irish dominance is plain to see
Indeed, the latest horse racing odds from William Hill shows quite a bleak picture for the British in the ante-post markets. There are some reasons to be cheerful, which we will highlight a bit later. But according to William Hill’s odds, the Irish have the clear market leader in the Gold Cup (A Plus Tard), Champion Hurdle (Honeysuckle), Stayers’ Hurdle (Klassical Dream), Arkle Chase (Ferny Hollow), Turners Novices’ Chase (Bob Olinger), Ryanair Chase (Allaho) Festival Novices’ Chase (Galopin Des Champs), as well as several of the big handicap races.
Perhaps the strength of the Irish contingent is most evident in the current market for the Gold Cup, which is Cheltenham’s most prestigious event. The betting market for the Grade 1 chase is led by A Plus Tard (7/2), Galvin (4/1), Minella Indo (last year’s winner, 7/1), and Al Boum Photo (the 2019 and 2020 winner, 10/1). Even further down the card, the Irish have those capable of springing a surprise, including the 2021 King George VI Chase winner, Tornado Flyer.
Henderson should deliver some success So, have the British any hope at the Festival? Well, their hopes can probably be summed up in two words, “Nicky Henderson”. The 71-year-old trainer and the ‘master of Seven Barrows’ will, as ever, be bringing a strong team to Cheltenham. He trains the favourite (Constitution Hill) in the opening race, the Supreme Novices Hurdle. He also brings the mighty Shishkin to the Festival, who will start off as the favourite in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Chantry House, Jonbon, Champ, and Mister Fisher could also deliver success for Henderson
Storybook Ending to the 2022 Renewal?
While winning those races would offer some respite to the British, it’s clear they will need a miracle to get anywhere near the haul of the Irish. In fact, so firmly has the pendulum swung in favour of the Irish, any improvement on last year’s record of five wins would be surely seen as a successful Cheltenham for British trainers.
Of course, you can never say never in horse racing, and Cheltenham has had its share of shock winners down the years. But the overwhelming strength of the Irish points to more disappointment for the British in this friendly (but fierce) rivalry that has lit up the historic Cheltenham Festival for decades.