The 2023 renewal of the Cheltenham Festival is still around four weeks away, but it’s already all that National Hunt racing fans have talked about for months. Such is the nature of the jumps campaign nowadays that all roads lead to Prestbury Park, and with the dust settled on an action-packed festive period, the appetite of both loyal and casual followers of the sport is whet.
The ante-post odds for the Festival’s 28 races are certainly starting to fluctuate at this stage of the season as well, with a Willie Mullins-trained horse leading the way in around a third of the markets. The early entries for most of the championship races were also revealed last month, so let’s take a look at the front runners for those four major contests.
Champion Hurdle – Constitution Hill
There will be a new name added to the Champion Hurdle’s roll of honour for the first time since 2019, as it has been confirmed dual winner Honeysuckle will not defend her crown after successive losses.
The remarkable Constitution Hill is the heavy favourite in the horse racing odds, and could lay down the marker to becoming one of the best hurdlers of all time with a maiden Champion Hurdle success at this year’s Festival.
The Nicky Henderson-trained horse is certainly the most feared thoroughbred in the division right now, leaving his opponents for dead in all five of his contests to date — including in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, when he set a new course record at Cheltenham. Few horses will go off at shorter odds than his 4/11 over the course of the four days.
Queen Mother Champion Chase – Energumene
Despite Mullins’ long list of successes at the Festival, it wasn’t until last year that he finally added the Queen Mother Champion Chase title to his impressive CV. However, the king of Closutton looks set to make up for lost time — as defending champion Energumene is the 11/8 favourite for the two-mile contest at the time of writing.
Last year’s Champion Chase was billed as one of the best races at the meeting, with Energumene and Shishkin set to battle it out for the second time after their classic encounter at Ascot earlier in the year. But the Henderson-trained horse was pulled up and was later confirmed to be suffering from a rare bone condition.
This year, 2022 Arkle winner Edwardstone, recent Clarence House champion Editeur Du Gite and stablemate Blue Lord will give challenge to the nine-year-old. That January outing over course and distance for the Clarence House, in which Energumene could fare no better than third, could be cause for concern.
Stayers’ Hurdle – Teahupoo
The championship race with the biggest odds for the market leader, the ante-post betting for the Stayers’ Hurdle — which shares the limelight on the penultimate day of the meeting with the Ryanair Chase — is currently favouring Grade 1 winner Teahupoo.
Two-time winner Flooring Porter was the long-time favourite, but after failing to win his last three outings, the Gavin Cromwell-trained horse has drifted out to 5/1. Gordon Elliott’s Teahupoo has benefited as a result and is a worthy favourite having won the top-level Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in December before winning his first attempt over three miles by 15 lengths in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle.
Gold Cup – Galopin Des Champs
The biggest race of the entire jumps racing season, it took Mullins longer than expected to get his hands on the prestigious Gold Cup as well — with Al Boum Photo finally delivering the goods in 2019 before defending his title 12 months later.
Henry de Bromhead has dethroned the Closutton handler for the last couple of renewals, but Mullins has a great chance of regaining the trophy from his fellow Irish trainer this year — as the highly-rated Galopin Des Champs is as short as 13/8.
The seven-year-old infamously fell when well clear of Bob Olinger at the last fence in the Turners after getting his foot caught in the reins last year, but he’s bounced back convincingly since — winning his last three races, including the Irish Gold Cup, by almost a combined 40 lengths. He will be hard to stop.