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Cheltenham Festival: Horses and trainers to follow

As the National Hunt season reaches its epic four-day centrepiece at Cheltenham, we take a look at the main horses and trainers to keep an eye on at the Festival.

Four action-packed days of the highest class racing is on offer, as the UK and Ireland go head-to-head in an effort to prove who has the best horses. 

The Festival has a history of playing host to some of the greatest moments and biggest superstars of the sport. It's the place where legends are made, think Arkle dominating the Gold Cup and etching himself into horse racing folklore, or perhaps Nicky Henderson making history in 2012 with four winners in one day. 

Across the four days, there is never a shortage of eye-catching performances, be it from a seasoned star or the new kid on the block, there is always the name of a horse or trainer on everybody's lips. This doesn't look to be changing any time soon, with an abundance of talent set to be on display this year.

In the run-up to Cheltenham, we take a look at look at some of the names worth keeping an eye on. 

Chacun Pour Soi 

Chacun Pour Soi is, without a doubt, one of the classiest chasers of this generation. 

The Willie Mullins-trained veteran has racked up over £500,000 in winnings and has won six grade one races over two miles - including the last three renewals of Leopardstown’s Dublin Chase and two Champion Chases at Punchestown. 

In his time he has beaten some classy operators, with the likes of Allaho, Defi Du Seuil and Fakir D’oudairies all having fallen victim to Mullins’ chase star. 

However, time waits for no one, not even the very best, and doubts have started to creep in over Chacun Pour Soi’s ability to match the speed of the younger stars of the two mile division. 

A step up to an extra half mile hasn’t made things any easier for the Mullins camp though. 

When tried over the new distance for the first time in the Horse & Jockeys Hotel Chase at Thurles, Chacun Pour Soi couldn’t muster any staying power, finishing 18 lengths behind the winner Fakir D’oudiries. 

This has left question marks over where he goes for the Cheltneham Festival this year – does he go back to two miles in the Champion Chase, stick with the longer distance in the Ryanair or perhaps even go even further and attempt the Stayers’ Hurdle?

Regardless of where he goes, the horse is a touch of class and will add to the complexity of any race he is part of.

Read more about Chacun Pour Soi

Bravemansgame

Bravemansgame is without a doubt one of the best jumpers that racing has ever seen. The way he clears his fences is a sight to behold – and it makes him a rightful contender for the Gold Cup.

Going into last year’s Festival, Paul Nicholls' star chaser was favourite for the Brown’s Advisory Novice’s Chase, having won all four of his chase starts by a combined 19 lengths. 

However, Nicholls pulled him from the race in the final hour, further casting doubts over whether or not Bravemansgame would ever be a Cheltenham winner. 

A tailed off last place finish at Aintree a month later cast further doubts over his credentials as a future Gold Cup winner, but he has firmly made amends this season. 

Following wind surgery and a break after that Aintree disappointment, Bravemansgame has been back to winning ways. 

He started the season by taking the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby before cruising home to hand Paul Nicholls a record 13th King George VI Chase title. 

The real question isn’t over Bravemangame’s ability, that is clear to see, its more a question of if he can take his flat track form to the undulating Cheltenham hills.

If he can cope with the track, he could be a force to be reckoned with. 

Read more about Bravemansgame

Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls is the most successful trainer of his generation, winning the Champion Trainer title 12 times in his career – including an incredible run of seven in a row between 2005 and 2012. 

He has also had his fair share of Cheltenham stars, including two legends of the game in Kauto Star and Denman who won the Ditcheat trainer three successive Gold Cups. 

However, since then, Nicholls has hardly been synonymous with the Cotswolds Festival. He hasn’t managed to win one of the Championship races since 2012 and hasn’t secured the title of top trainer of the festival since 2009. 

This year though, he is looking a man revitalised. 

He has had a string of impressive winners this season as he looks set to win his 13th Champion Trainer title, and he takes these to Cheltenham with big wins in his sights.

His best chance of all is likely to be Hermes Allen, favourite for the Ballymore. 

However, his most notable is Gold Cup contender Bravemansgame.

This year’s King George VI winner is regarded by many as one of the best jumpers to ever go over a fence, however his apparent avoidance of undulating tracks has meant that Cheltenham casts doubt on whether he will show his best.

Rule him and Nicholls out at your own peril though, as he will be feeling bullish that he can join Pat Taaffe as the race’s most successful trainer with his fifth victory. 

Read more about Paul Nicholls

Nicky Henderson

It is hard to imagine a Cheltenham Festival without Nicky Henderson, the legendary trainer has been getting winners on the board since way back in 1985 and he has shown no signs of slowing down, still racking up multiple winners every year.

Henderson has trained some of the biggest legends to grace the famous Cheltenham turf, the likes of Altior, Shishkin and of course Sprinter Sacre.

Whilst he may not be as successful as his biggest rival at the top of table in Willie Mullins these days, Henderson still has his fair share of prospects, most notably Constitution Hill.

Henderson may just have the best horse in training in Constitution Hill and it looks increasingly likely that the superstar hurdler could grant Henderson a record ninth Champion Hurdle crown – it’s also looking like he could be the most dominant winner yet, with no challenger yet to get within 10 lengths of him.

Other than his biggest chance in the Champion Hurdle, the Seven Barrows trainer yet again has stars littered all across the Festival, it would be no shock to see him take multiple scalps again this year.

Read more about Nicky Henderson

Flooring Porter

Cheltenham Festival is a place where the wheat really gets separated from the chaff, horses who once seemed untouchable have been found wanting when trying to conquer the famous Cheltenham hill. 

One horse who clearly hasn’t been fazed by the event is Flooring Porter - unbeaten around the Cotswolds track, winning the Stayers’ Hurdle in both 2021 and 2022, and he is going for the hat-trick this year.

With this in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Flooring Porter should be a hot favourite for this year’s renewal but things haven't gone quite to plan.

In his two races this season, Gavin Cromwell’s star stayer has finished in a tailed off fourth place, with current Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Home By The Lee winning both times. 

Now with injury struggles a concern, it is up in the air whether or not the current Stayers' Hurdle king will be there to defend his crown. 

However, given his love affair with Cheltenham, anybody would be foolish to write Flooring Porter off. 

Read more about Flooring Porter

Shishkin

Kicking off 2022 by turning over Energumene in what was deemed the race of the year in the Clarence House, it seemed that nobody would be able to take Shishkin’s crown as the top two-mile chaser. 

However, just two months later at the Cheltenham Festival and the tables had turned. Energumene took the Champion Chase crown whilst Shishkin looked tired and was ultimately unable to finish the race. 

Whilst a massive disappointment, that was the first ever blot on Shishkin’s record and some post-race comments from Nicky Henderson suggested that things just weren’t right that day and a rest would see his star back to his best. 

That wasn’t to be the case though, on his seasonal reappearance at Sandown, Shishkin looked a shadow of the horse he once was. 

It has left many scratching their heads but if anybody can get a tune out of their horse it is Nicky Henderson. 

The Seven Barrows trainer has had his star undergo wind surgery and has suggested that he could return to winning ways at a longer distance, which could lead to an exciting clash against Allaho in the Ryanair Chase at this year’s festival.

Read more about Shishkin

Henry De Bromhead 

Henry De Bromhead has developed quite the knack for training big winners at the Cheltenham Festival. 

The Irishman has won two Champion Hurdles in a row, as well as training not just the winner of the last two Gold Cup’s but also the second horse home, with Minella Indo and A Plus Tard trading places in 2021 and 2022. 

Thing’s might not be quite as easy this year though, his Champion Hurdle superstar Honeysuckle looks to have quite the task on her hands if she is to stop the heavy favourite Constitution Hill from taking her crown in this years renewal of the race.

Making it a hat-trick of Gold Cup’s also looks to be a big challenge, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the fitness of A Plus Tard and the general consensus is that Minella Indo doesn’t quite have the stamina any more.

However, history dictates that you would be foolish to write off any of De Bromhead’s runners and if anybody can prepare them for Cheltenham, it’s him. 

Read more about Henry De Bromhead 

Energumene

After narrowly missing out on victory in what was dubbed the race of the year in 2022’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot, Energumene has gone on to cement his place as the top two-mile chaser. 

Unbeaten over fences up until that point, racing fans all over were anticipating a contest for the ages as Energumene went to take on Shishkin at Ascot’s January meeting. 

Energumene may have lost the battle that day but he has certainly won the war. 

Ever since that day Shishkin has not looked the same – so much so that he has now left the two-mile chase scene – whilst Energumene has gone from strength to strength, winning all three of his races since, including the Queen Mother’s Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

It looks hard to oppose Tony Bloom’s superstar in this year’s renewal of the race, he has already scared off former champion Shishkin - can he do the same to this year’s main challenger Edwardstone?

Read more about Energumene

Facile Vega

Having impressed in last year’s festival when winning the Champion Bumper a shade cosily, Facile Vega was one of the horses everyone was desperate to see go over hurdles this season. 

Now plying his trade over timber, Willie Mullins’ star novice has certainly lived up to expectation, winning his two races this season by a combined 18 lengths. 

Facile Vega is yet to see a worthy rival and in what looks to be a weak field in this year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle, it looks likely that he could make it two wins from two at the festival. 

This will of course be his toughest test yet and a weak jump at the last in his most recent race did raise some eyebrows, however it is clear to see the talent that this horse holds and he is not an unworthy odds-on favourite. 

Read more about Facile Vega

Constitution Hill

One of the most impressive winners at last year's Festival with a breath-taking 22 length victory in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Constitution Hill's appearance in this year's Champion Hurdle has been one of the most anticipated in recent history. 

Since that impressive romp, Nicky Henderson's star has started this season how he finished the last - by winning races with minimum fuss. 

The Seven Barrows superstar has won his two races this season by a combined 29 lengths, both times at the expense of stablemate Epatante, who is no pushover himself having finished a close second to Honeysuckle in last year's Champion Hurdle. 

Will another Cheltenham victory be on the cards as Constitution Hill looks to take Honeysuckle's crown? 

Read more about Constitution Hill.

Honeysuckle 

Winning the Mares' Hurdle in 2020, the Champion Hurdle in the following two years and everything in between, Honeysuckle seemed untouchable as she extended her unbeaten run under Rachael Blackmore to 16 at the Punchestown Festival last April.

On her seasonal reappearence at Fairyhouse, however, Honeysuckle didn't have enough to hold off Teahupoo and Klassical Dream in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, finishing third and casting doubts over whether or not she’d go back to the Mares’ Hurdle, or take on heir to the throne and heavy favourite Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle.

However, it seems as if it's Champion Hurdle or bust for Henry de Bromhead's star and so a mouth-watering clash with Constitution Hill at Cheltenham looks set to give fans what they have been waiting for.

Read more about Honeysuckle.

Allaho 

Allaho is a horse of extreme talent, winning two consecutive Ryanair Chases in 2021 and 2022 before treating fans to his best performance yet when taking the step up to three miles in his stride, winning the Punchestown Gold Cup by a monster 14 lengths.

However, since that performance Allaho hasn't been seen and it's had fans wondering what's next for Willie Mullins' star.

Whilst there is a possibility of a tune-up race before Cheltenham, it's looking increasingly likely that the two-time Ryanair winner will be heading to the Cotswolds fresh in a bid to make it a hat-trick. 

It's hard to know which Allaho we will see at Cheltenham after this absence but given the form that he was in and Mullins' confidence that his star can run fresh, you can be sure that a big performance is on the cards.

Read more about Allaho.

Willie Mullins 

For many trainers, a winner at the Cheltenham Festival is no easy feat, not for Willie Mullins though. The Irish trainer is the most successful in the history of the Festival, with 88 winners since his first, Tourist Attraction, in 1995.

Back then, Mullins' operation wasn't quite as impressive as it is now. It wasn't until 2008 that he had more than one winner across the week of racing and his winners were largely limited to the Champion Bumper, with six of his first 12 winners up to that point coming in the jump-less race. 

Since that breakthrough in 2008 however, Mullins hasn't gone a single year without multiple winners across the week and in recent years that has improved even more, with anything less than double digits in the winners column looking like something of an underperformance. 

With Mullins yet again having a stable full of top-class performers, will it be another Cheltenham Festival to remember? 

Read more about about Willie Mullins.

Paisley Park

One of racing’s favourite sons, Paisley Park is looking to add another chapter to his heroic career at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

He isn’t the most straightforward of horses, as shown in his sole Festival win back in 2019 when coming from the rear of the pack to power home late, but this just adds to his charm.

Fans may have been worried about where Paisley Park’s career was headed after some underwhelming performances across the last two seasons, however two excellent showings this season have shown that he isn’t done just yet.

With a seemingly unlimited engine and a heart as big as they come, it’s impossible to rule Emma Lavelle’s superstar out of any race – especially with this year’s Stayers Hurdle looking wide open.

It will by no means be an easy task but that may play in Paisley Park's favour, the veteran stayer certainly relishes a challenge.

Read more about Paisley Park

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