As the National Hunt season reaches its epic four-day centrepiece at Cheltenham, we take a look at the main horses, jockeys 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.
Paul Townend has one of the best jobs in racing as top jockey for Willie Mullins, so it is no surprise that he has been the top rider at the Festival twice in the last three seasons, and he is hot favourite to take the title again this year.
The Jockey from County Cork already has 23 winners to his name at the Cotswolds spectacle and he looks certain to add to that total this year.
With such a good book of rides, it is hard to pick where Townend will have his best chance. One of his most anticipated though, is sure to be his Gold Cup hope in Galopin Des Champs.
The superstar chaser is one of the most exciting horses in training, and has earned himself the honour of being one of the shortest priced Gold Cup favourites in recent history.
Townend has purred over his chances and will be looking to top off any glory with a win in the big one.
Read more about Paul Townend
As the main rider for trainer Nicky Henderson, Nico De Boinville is no stranger to the winner’s enclosure, and is the only Brit to have won Cheltenham Festival’s leading jockey award in the last decade.
He has ridden some of the greats over the years, including the likes of Altior, Sprinter Sacre and Shishkin.
One of his rides this year, however, could top the lot.
Constitution Hill has taken the world of National Hunt racing by storm since he burst onto the scene in December of 2021 – and De Boinville has been the man doing the steering for each run of his unbeaten career.
The superstar hurdler has won by a combined 77 lengths in his five races, with fans eagerly awaiting March’s Champion Hurdle to see De Boinville steer the classy Constitution Hill to another demolition job.
The Champion Hurdle isn’t his only chance at glory, the Hampshire-born jockey will also mount the likes of Jonbon in the Arkle and Marie’s Rock, who looks to have a huge chance, in the Mares’ Hurdle.
The pressure is on, with De Boinville tasked with riding some of the most exciting horses in training, but he has been here before and looks set to add more Grade 1 glory to his achievement list.
Read more about Nico De Boinville
As the main jockey for the racing powerhouse Paul Nicholls, Harry Cobden and his trainer have enjoyed a prolific partnership in the past few years.
Cheltenham, however, has been far from kind to the pair.
Nicholls hasn’t managed to add to his tally of 46 Festival winners in the last two years, whilst Cobden only has two winners to his name at the Cotswolds spectacle, coming in 2018 and 2019.
There is a feeling that this year could be different though, Nicholls is firing in the winners and Cobden is having a fantastic season because of it.
The Somerset Jockey has picked up 86 winners from just 297 rides, operating at an obscene strike rate of 29% - for context, if Cobden had taken as many rides as champion jockey Brian Hughes this season he would have ridden 60 more winners.
If Cobden can carry that form into the Festival, he could be a force to be reckoned with.
With a book of rides that is set to include the likes of Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle favourite Hermes Allen, Ryanair contender Pic D’Orhy and the exciting Gold Cup entry Bravemansgame, Cobden will be licking his lips over the prospect of a return to Cheltenham’s winning enclosure.
Read more about Harry Cobden
Nobody rides Cheltenham quite like Davy Russell. The legendary rider’s career has ebbed and flowed but he has always delivered during that magical week in March.
However, it was widely believed that we would never see him on the track again following his retirement in December.
There is to be one last unexpected hoorah though, as the former top-rider for Gordon Elliot was lured back to the saddle after his successor, Jack Kennedy, suffered a leg-break that would keep him on the sidelines for at least a couple of months.
His return to riding means that Russell is, again, the most successful active jockey at the Cheltenham Festival and he will be looking to head to a winners’ enclosure that he knows so well for one final time.
His chances of a winner look good too, with rides on Delta Work, Gerri Colombe and Mighty Potter across the four days.
Read more about Davy Russell
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
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
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
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.
For someone who has only been operating solo since 2013, Dan Skelton has done exceptionally well to establish himself as one of Britain’s finest National Hunt trainers.
The former assistant to Paul Nicholls already has four Cheltenham Festival winners under his belt, including 2019’s Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle with Roksana.
However in the three years since, Skelton has failed to add to his tally and he will be eager to amend that this year, it certainly won’t be easy to overpower the bigger operations of Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson, but Skelton does have his share of hopefuls this year.
Perhaps his biggest and most high-profile hope is last year’s Gold Cup third – Protektorat.
He returned this season with an emphatic win at Haydock and the Skelton yard were purring over their star chaser’s chance at Gold Cup glory.
His following run in the Cotswolds Chase could have dented confidence when finishing fourth, but Skelton appears to feel undeterred and is still bullish over his chances at preventing a fifth straight Irish Gold Cup winner.
Read more about Dan Skelton
Since moving over from France to be trained by Willie Mullins, State Man has been close to faultless. The star hurdler has won six of his seven races for Mullins, with the only blot on his record an unfortunate fall on stable debut.
He has beaten some classy operators so far in his career such as the Rich Ricci owned pair of Sharjah and Vauban, as well as most recently, and probably most notably, Honeysuckle.
On top of these impressive scalps, he also has a Cheltenham Festival win to his name, winning last year’s County Hurdle.
With all of this in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that State Man should be a hot favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
In any ordinary year he would, but it looks like he may just ‘bump into one’ in the shape of Constitution Hill.
It will be a stiff test overcoming what many consider to be the banker of the Festival, but State Man is no pushover and he is sure to give Nicky Henderson’s superstar a run for his money.
He has already conquered the reigning Champion Hurdle queen Honeysuckle, it will be his toughest test yet but State Man could just upset the odds to go a step further and take her crown.
Regardless of the result, this classy hurdler looks set to be part of one of the clashes of the Festival.
Read more about State Man
This time last year, the thought of Princess Zoe racing this season looked unlikely, the thought of her going over hurdles even more unlikely and then the idea of her going to the Cheltenham Festival…well you know the rest.
As it is well-documented though, the Cotswolds spectacle is a hot bed of fairy-tale stories and racing fans all over will be hoping that Princess Zoe can add her chapter.
The German-bred mare started her career as a modest runner on the flat, winning two minor events from 15 starts in her native country, but after being sold and going into training with Tony Mullins over in Ireland she showed marked improvement, becoming one of the most popular horses in racing.
Her upturn in form under Mullins was a sight to behold, after finishing second on debut for the Irish trainer she went on a run of four straight wins, which resulted in a tilt at the Group 1 Prix du Cadran at Longchamp – which she went on to win in an impressive manner.
After that success, Princess Zoe could only muster one win from 13 starts, but she still became a fan favourite for her battling nature and heart of a lion.
Given who she was trained by, and the physical attributes she possessed, there was always a lingering feeling that a jumps career could be possible, but plans to retire her to become a broodmare put those to bed.
That was until plans changed.
When failing to meet her reserve price at the Tattersalls December Sale, connections decided to try her over fences. She made an impressive debut when finishing a dead-heated first at Punchestown – impressive enough to put her into contention for the Mares Novices’ Hurdle in March.
Read more about Princess Zoe
A fairly modest prospect over hurdles, Impervious has taken to fences better than anyone could have expected and has emerged as a strong contender for the Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Colm Murphy’s star actually started her career over hurdles quite well, winning her first three races over the smaller obstacles, despite not being favourite for any of those races. A step up to better company, however, showed that she was never going to be a leading light in the division.
After three straight losses in Grade 1 Novice Hurdles, including the Mares’ Novice at Cheltenham, it was time to send Impervious chasing.
The mare has taken to the larger obstacles in impressive fashion, backing up a beginners’ chase win at Wexford with a win in a Grade 2 at Cork a month later, convincingly beating a well fancied Dinoblue, owned by JP McManus.
That win was enough to catch the eye of the billionaire Irish owner who, in classic ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude, purchased Impervious for himself.
A month after that impressive win Impervious was sent to Punchestown to compete against the boys, where a good performance would set her Cheltenham credentials in stone.
She didn’t disappoint.
Impervious kept on well to beat the impressive Journey With Me, with the rest of the field over 22 lengths behind.
This string of performances has put Impervious firmly in the picture for the Mares’ Chase in March, in what could be, somewhat surprisingly, just the second race of her career where she will go off as favourite.
Read more about Impervious
One of the top Juveniles in training, Lossiemouth has been fancied all season to grant Willie Mullins his third Triumph Hurdle in four years, so much so that a slight hiccup at the Dublin Racing Festival has not lost her any admirers.
Willie Mullins’ filly has only run three times in her career under the Irish trainer, but in her opening two wins she impressed enough to make her one of the strongest favourites for the Cheltenham Festival.
She beat well-fancied stablemate Zarak The Brave on her Irish debut to confirm her place as the stable’s top Juvenile hurdler, before beating another stablemate in Gala Marceau a month later.
Two months later she travelled to the Dublin Racing Festival for her last run before Cheltenham and another impressive performance was anticipated, especially given her closest rival that day was Gala Marceau who she had beaten by over seven lengths last time out.
To everybody’s surprise though, Lossiemouth was to taste defeat for the first time, with Gala Marceau reversing the form.
Despite this loss though, opinions hadn’t changed on the Triumph Hurdle favourite and if anything she became even more fancied – she met a lot of trouble in racing and picked up incredibly well to even get as close as she did.
As long as the Mullins filly avoids similar trouble in the Cotswolds, she will be tough to beat.
In what seemed, at best, a two horse race, Editeur Du Gite seemingly came from nowhere to emerge as a shock contender for this year’s Champion Chase.
Gary Moore’s charge has had a fairly modest career, especially in comparison to Energumene and Edwardstone, the two market leaders for March’s premier two-mile Chase. However, this season he has staked his claim as a true contender.
When he was well held in a handicap for his seasonal return at Cheltenham in October, it seemed unlikely that Editeur Du Gite would be a Champion Chase contender – but when travelling to Kempton in December, opinions started to shift.
The mid-race exit of Edwardstone was unfortunate, but Edeteur Du Gite still beat the rest of the field by a convincing 13 lengths.
A month later, Edwardstone had a chance to make amends whilst Editeur Du Gite had to prove he could beat Edwardstone for real, but this time Champion Chase king Energumene was in the mix.
It looked like a match between Energumene and Edwardstone, with Moore’s stars previous win brushed off as a lucky fluke, but Editeur Du Gite proved that this wasn’t the case when convincingly fighting off an Edwardstone challenge whilst Energumene could barely land a glove.
There are still some doubts over whether or not Moore’s star can repeat the trick at the Festival, but evidence suggests he has a real chance.
Read more about Editeur Du Gite
After an impressive novice campaign last year that featured just one, very unfortunate, blot on the record, Galopin Des Champs has continued to excel and has cemented his place as Gold Cup favourite.
His start to life under Willie Mullins wasn’t the most impressive, he struggled in his first three starts over hurdles - but a move into handicaps and a step up in distance did the trick, as Galopin Des Champs won the Martin Pipe Hurdle at the 2021 Festival.
He stepped up in distance again at the Punchestown Festival a month later, winning the Grade One Novice Hurdle over 3 miles to round off his career over hurdles.
His first season over fences was almost faultless, winning his first two races by a combined 31 lengths before heading to Cheltenham to take on Bob Olinger.
Again, it looked like Mullins’ star was about to canter to another impressive victory when approaching the last fence a whole 12 lengths ahead, however a poor jump at the last meant that the race was at his rival's mercy.
Regardless of the result on paper, it was clear that Galopin Des Champs was a freakishly good horse and was thrown straight into the Gold Cup conversation – the only question left to answer was whether or not he could handle the stiff test of Cheltenham’s 3m 2f centrepiece.
An impressive victory over 3 miles at Leopardstown’s Irish Gold Cup seemed to answer those questions, leaving Galopin Des Champs as a hard to oppose favourite for the big one in the Cotswolds.
Read more about Galopin Des Champs
All eyes have been on Jonbon since the very start of his career, as a brother to the very impressive Douvan and being purchased by JP McManus for £540,000, it was clear from the offset that he was one to watch.
Each step of Jonbon’s career has been watched intently, and he has been almost faultless – winning on all three of his bumper, hurdle and chase debuts.
Despite this, there have always been question marks surrounding Nicky Henderson’s star – most notably after the one loss of his career.
Jonbon went into last year’s Supreme Novices’ Festival with plenty of admirers but after being beaten by a wide 22-length margin by Constitution Hill, opinions changed.
However, it has since become apparent just how freakishly good Constitution Hill is and to be the only horse that Jonbon has seen the back of in his career is far from a worrying sign.
This loss did signal what the future held for Jonbon though and he has been sent chasing – a smart choice judging by his performances.
The son of Walk In The Park has taken to the larger obstacles like a duck to water and has cemented his place as favourite for this year’s Arkle Chase.
There will be a challenge from a strong Irish contingent that includes the likes of El Fabiolo and Dysart Dynamo, but Henderson will be confident of Jonbon's chances.
Read more about Jonbon
Current Gold Cup king A Plus Tard will be looking to retain his crown this year, but there are strong question marks against the superstar’s name.
Henry De Bromhead’s star won last year’s instalment of the race in devastating fashion, powering away from defending champion Minella Indo to reverse the previous year’s placings and steer 15 lengths clear of his stablemate.
Despite the manner in which he won last year’s Gold Cup, there are factors which suggest he will find it tougher this time around.
For starters, De Bromhead’s star will have the impressive Galopin Des Champs to contend with. Plus, A Plus Tard’s only run this season, in what is likely to be the only time we see him before Cheltenham, ended in him being pulled up for the first time in his career.
That effort was described by trainer De Bromhead as “too bad to be true”, and given that A Plus Tard’s form figures in his 14 races under the Irishman up until that point read 21213-213-212-12, he might have a point.
Read more about A Plus Tard
Home By the Lee has seemingly come from nowhere to emerge as a leading contender for this year’s instalment of the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
JP O’Brien’s staying star has had a fairly modest career up until this season, his career started well when winning two bumpers and running well in his first two maiden hurdle races, but when stepping up to more difficult races over timber he looked all at sea.
A move to chasing seemed to do the trick, landing his first two races over the larger obstacles – but, again, stepping up to compete with better company saw Home By The Lee struggle.
On New Year’s Eve of 2021, after his jumping in higher level chases came under scrutiny, Home By The Lee made his return to hurdles.
His efforts remained modest but an 80/1 second in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park was enough for a crack at Cheltenham’s Stayers' Hurdle – where he finished an honourable sixth.
With all this in mind, one would wonder how such a modest career could lead to potential Cheltenham glory.
This season though, Home By The Lee looks a horse reborn – he first ran out a shock 28/1 winner in Navan’s Lismullen Hurdle when beating Bob Olinger and Flooring Porter before backing it up by beating the pair again in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
After a resurgent start to the season, O’Brien’s star is rightfully in contention for Stayers’ Hurdle glory.
Read more about Home By The Lee
Last year’s Arkle winner Edwardstone looks to become the third horse in six years to return to Cheltenham Festival and complete the double with Champion Chase glory.
Alan King’s star has been close to faultless since making the permanent move to the bigger obstacles at the start of last season, not finishing outside of the top two in eight of his ten races, winning six of those.
The two occasions where he didn’t fill the top two places were an unfortunate collision with another horse to be brought down, and an uncharacteristic unseating of the rider.
However, despite Edwardstone’s nearly impeccable chase form over two miles, the extreme talent that is Energumene has meant that Alan King’s charge hasn’t been too strongly considered as having enough to stop the current Champion Chase holder from regaining his crown.
At least that was the case, until January’s re-arranged Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham threw a huge spanner into the works.
The two market leaders of this year’s Champion Chase faced off in what promised to be a fantastic preview for the Festival – however, it was Editeur Du Gite who beat them both to run out as a shock 14/1 winner.
Worth noting though, is that Edwardstone came very close to heading the eventual winner – much closer than Energumene.
With that race in mind, it could be foolish to rule Edwardstone out from leaving his rival behind again.
Read more about Edwardstone
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’oudairies.
This has left question marks over where he goes for the Cheltenham 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 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
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
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 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 suggested that he could return to winning ways at a longer distance.
When Henderson talks, it's normally smart to listen. The trainer was right once again.
Stepping up to 2m5f in the Ascot Chase in February, Shishkin blew the field away, travelling strongly throughout to win by 16 lengths.
The win has put him to the top of list for Ryanair glory in March, as well as earning himself an unexpected place in the Gold Cup conversation - who would have thought that back in December?
Read more about Shishkin
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
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
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.
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.
Going into her final run of the season before the Festival, it seemed that connections saw it as "Champion Hurdle or bust".
However, a valiant effort in defeat in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown showed enough to suggest that it's not all over for Honeysuckle, and instead of clashing with Constitution Hill she heads to the Mares' Hurdle - will she end her career with one final Cotswolds success?
Read more about Honeysuckle.
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.
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