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The 2022 Cheltenham Festival ante-post markets are already taking shape as some of the biggest National Hunt stars have been stepping up their preparations.
The four-day meeting is the pinnacle of the jumps season for horses in the United Kingdom and Ireland and always attracts massive interest from the horse racing online bookmakers and punters alike.
Each day of the event features a host of top-class action including Grade One championship races for the best hurdlers and chasers in the business.
With that in mind, we look at four horses to follow in the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Honeysuckle – Champion Hurdle
Honeysuckle recently maintained her unbeaten record with a stunning display to win the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse for the third time.
The reigning champion hurdler was winning her ninth Grade One event and will be extremely tough to beat at the Festival.
Connections had been contemplating sending Honeysuckle over fences, but decided to keep her over the smaller obstacles this season.
Given the way she brushed aside her opponents with contemptuous ease at Fairyhouse, that decision is likely to be fully vindicated by the time March comes around.
Shishkin – Champion Chase
Shishkin has won at the Festival for the past two years, claiming the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Novices’ Chase.
The seven-year-old’s main target this season is the Champion Chase and it would be a brave move to back against him completing a famous hat-trick.
He was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in early December, but trainer Nick Henderson has decided to swerve the race.
Henderson’s decision to tread carefully with Shishkin is undoubtedly a sensible move and the horse is confidently expected to be at its peak at the Festival.
Buzz – Stayers’ Hurdle
Henderson has another excellent chance of a winner on the third day of the Festival, with Buzz strongly fancied to run a big race in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
The grey Motivator gelding demonstrated his versatility during October, running out a ready winner of the Cesarewitch Handicap on the flat at Newmarket.
He has since triumphed impressively over hurdles at Ascot, leading on the bridle at the last flight before being ridden clear for a comfortable success over two and a half miles.
Buzz will have no problem coping with the extra distance in the Stayers’ Hurdle and should run a very big race next March.
A Plus Tard – Gold Cup
A Plus Tard made a sensational return to action with an outstanding victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock during November.
Jockey Rachael Blackmore settled the horse well off the early pace, before sauntering into contention with four fences to jump.
A Plus Tard took control up the home straight without breaking sweat to cruise home by 22 lengths from Royale Pagaille.
Henry de Bromhead’s talented chaser finished second in last season’s Gold Cup, but looks a great bet to go one better this time around.
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