The Cheltenham Festival is the most talked-about and eagerly anticipated race meeting of the calendar year.
For four days in mid-March, the Cotswolds is the eye of the sporting world as the best jumps horses from across Britain and Ireland (and sometimes France) come together to fight it out for the most sought-after prizes in racing.
We've got a guide to all four Championship races at Cheltenham – starting with the Champion Hurdle.
The Champion Hurdle is the feature race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, which takes place at Prestbury Park in the picturesque Gloucestershire countryside each year in mid-March. The 2022 Champion Hurdle is set for 15:30 on Tuesday 15th March.
If you're not lucky enough to be trackside in the Cotswolds, the Champion Hurdle is shown live on terrestrial television in Britain via ITV Racing, part of their coverage of all four days of the Cheltenham Festival. You can also catch it on our Sports Live Streaming platform.
The Champion Hurdle is considered the leading race for two-mile hurdlers in Britain and Ireland. It is a Grade 1 race and the most prestigious of its type run in the season.
It is open to horses aged four years or older and is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham over a distance of 2m½f.
There are eight hurdles to be jumped in the race and it is the ultimate test of a horse's ability to get from A-to-B in a fast and efficient manner.
Speed through the air, stamina for the long Cheltenham Hill and a crucial change of gear are key factors in this race.
Three is the magic number in this race. There have been five three-time winners and they are: Hatton's Grace (1949, 1950, 1951), Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954), Persian War (1968, 1969, 1970), See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987) and Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000).
Nicky Henderson's tally of eight Champion Hurdle wins stands proud. The Seven Barrows trainer first tasted success in 1985 and his most recent win came in 2020. Henderson's Champion Hurdle heroes are: See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur D'Air (2017, 2018), Epatante (2020).
A three-way tie currently exists with a trio of jockeys having won the race on four occasions – though only Barry Geraghty has steered four different horses to glory - Punjabi (2009), Jezki (2014), Buveur D'Air (2018), Epatante (2020).
Tim Molony - Hatton's Grace (1951), Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954) – and Ruby Walsh - Hurricane Fly (2011, 2013), Faugheen (2015), Annie Power (2016) – have also won the race four times.
Over the years, this is a race JP McManus has set his sights on repeatedly and the iconic Irish owner has enjoyed a string of successes – nine in total. The green and gold hoops were carried to glory by: Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000), Binocular (2010), Jezki (2014), Buveur D'Air (2017, 2018), Espoir D'Allen (2019) and Epatante (2020).
Mares are given a 7lb allowance to compete against males in this race, though it's still a relatively rare feat for a mare to win the Champion Hurdle – there have been only six, though they include the two most recent. The winning mares are: African Sister (1939), Dawn Run (1984), Flakey Dove (1994), Annie Power (2016), Epatante (2020) Honeysuckle (2021).
If Honeysuckle retains her crown this year, she will become the first mare to win this race twice.
The Fulke Welwyn-trained Kirriemuir returned the winner at 50/1 in 1965 and remains the longest-priced winner of the race, though the feat was matched by Beech Road for Toby Balding in 1989. Honourable mentions go to For Auction (40/1, 1982) and Hardy Eustace (33/1, 2004).
|2017||Buveur d'Air||Noel Fehily||Nicky Henderson||JP McManus||5/1|
|Barry Geraghty||Nicky Henderson||JP McManus||4/6f|
|2019||Espoir D'Allen||Mark Walsh||Gavin Cromwell||JP McManus||16/1|
|Nicky Henderson||JP McManus||2/1f|
|2021||Honeysuckle||Rachael Blackmore||Henry De Bromhead||Kenny Alexander||11/10f|
The reigning champion Honeysuckle is trading at 4/6 to hold onto her crown. Henry De Bromhead's outstanding mare has yet to sample a defeat in her career and – if she's on form – looks like being incredibly hard to dislodge.
Last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Appreciate It is available at 5/1.
Epatante has returned to Grade 1-winning form this season and is 10/1 to regain this mantle, while last year's juveniles are potentially led by the likes of Teahupoo and Quilixios.
Tommy's Oscar is a rapid improver this season for trainer Ann Hamilton and his latest Grade 2 win has pushed him into the picture as a 25/1 chance for Champion Hurdle glory on March 15th.