Make no mistake about it: For backers of the favourites, there’s always at least one massive disappointment at the Cheltenham Festival. Douvan, Chacun Pour Soi, Kasbah Bliss – we could list a huge number of short-priced favourites who failed when expected to deliver at the Festival. Even legends like Golden Miller and Istabraq, both of whom are synonymous with Festival, flopped as favourites towards the end of their glittering careers.
But which of the big ante-post favourites is looking like they are in a precarious position for Cheltenham 2022 success? It is, by its very nature, a tough question, given the fact they are made favourites for a reason. But we think we can perhaps parse out some reasons why you should have second thoughts over some big names. However, with just a few days now to go until the Festival (15th – 18th March) kicks off, remember to ensure that your Cheltenham betting odds are covered by NRNB (Non-Runner No Bet). This means you will get your money back should your selection be suddenly withdrawn or switch races – and that does often happen at this stage.
Honeysuckle leads the ante-post markets
Anyway, let’s get down to business. In the lead-up to the 2022 Festival, there are four horses who are odds-on in the ante-post markets – Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle), Shishkin (Champion Chase), Allaho (Ryanair Chase), and Galopin Des Champs (Festival Novices Chase). There’s also a couple of others, including Bob Olinger (Turner Novices Chase) and Facile Vega (Champion Bumper), who are sitting around evens. All have been well backed and deserved their tag as market leaders, but it would be surprising to see all of them win.
The eye is arguably drawn to Shishkin, given he meets the most resistance in the Champion Chase. His battle with Energumene in the Clarence House Chase last month was one of the best races we have seen this decade. Shishkin dug deep for a narrow victory, but there was still a sense that the war between the pair was far from over. You can get odds of 4/6 generally for Shishkin, with 3/1 for Energumene. You might also expect to see some backing for a rejuvenated Chacun Pour Soi at 6/1. For us, Shishkin’s price doesn’t sit right. His quality is undoubted, but there are two big threats in the race that would make us lose sleep should we back Shishkin at odds-on.
Beware of runners with multiple entries
Elsewhere, we can take a look at both Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger. These are two novice chasers who look like they will become superstars of the future. Indeed, they are the 1st and 2nd favourites for the 2023 Gold Cup (yes, some bookies look that far ahead). The problem at the moment is not how they will perform in any given race. Rather it is that they have multiple entries at Cheltenham. Consensus says they will be kept apart, with Willie Mullins aiming Galopin Des Champs at the Festival Novices Chase and Henry de Bromhead choosing the Turners for Bob Olinger, but that’s not guaranteed. And there’s always an outside chance that they clash in the same race. As we said earlier, make sure you have NRNB if you are backing either until their entries are set in stone.
The shortest price favourite across the Cheltenham ante-post markets is Honeysuckle, who comes in at odds of 1/2 to take a second successive Champion Hurdle. It is difficult to argue with those odds, to be frank about it. Honeysuckle has 14 wins from 14 runs under Henry de Bromhead, and the field the mare will face in the Champion Hurdle is relatively weak. Still, as we have mentioned, superstars have flopped before, and there might be a squeak of a chance for the likes of Appreciate It.
Overall, we would recommend that you do not get sucked into backing a horse due to its price. Back in 2017, Douvan went off at 2/9 for the Champion Chase. He finished 7th. Afterwards, he was found to be lame, but it just goes to show that you cannot take it for granted that the big favourites are always going to deliver. Keep that in mind when you make your Cheltenham selections this month.