(3 minutes read time)
The new jumps season is upon us once more! With the start of The Cheltenham Festival exactly 5 months away, we take the opportunity to size up the big box office clashes which are expected to dominate the headlines in the next few months.
Supreme Novice hurdle champion Constitution Hill could make his debut in open company at Newcastle for The Fighting Fifth Grade 1 next month whereby the keenest attention will no doubt come from connections of Honeysuckle, the dual Champion Hurdler. It is without doubt the most anticipated dual of the season and we assess how this match may pan out.
We will also take a look at Willie Mullins’ rising superstar Galopin Des Champs as punters dream of a match with Gold Cup hero A Plus Tard.
Plus, we recycle the big clash from last year in the 2-mile chase division as Energumene will no doubt meet his arch-rival Shishkin for an enthralling third part of this epic saga.
Which British trainers hold the key to the winners this season? We take a look at the hopes of Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls, as well as taking a sneak peek at the ante post markets for The Cheltenham Festival to spot the early bird value.
Constitution Hill vs Honeysuckle
Crunching The Numbers
When ITV Racing interviewed Nicky Henderson immediately after Constitution Hill’s remarkable 22 length victory in The Supreme Novices Hurdle, even the Seven Barrows handler himself seemed quite shell-shocked.
“We expected Constitution Hill to run well, but we didn’t expect him to do that to Jonbon..”
The manner of that victory has certainly changed the complexion of the Champion Hurdle market. Current reigning champion Honeysuckle now has a rival to be genuinely concerned about considering the reaction the handicapper and bookmakers have expressed.
Constitution Hill has an official rating of 170 by the handicapper (against Honeysuckle’s 165) and is generally an 11/8 shot for The Champion Hurdle (Bet365, William Hill) against Honeysuckle’s 4/1 best (William Hill).
But it is all about the numbers of course.
Constitution Hill blew away the course record in his win which was nearly 6 seconds faster than Honeysuckle’s Champion Hurdle victory later that afternoon.
However, followers of Honeysuckle will point to the fact that the Henry De Bromhead trained mare has a vast collection of bottles and t-shirts: she has done it, he needs to prove it. Fifteen straight wins is testament to that. The mare’s 7ib weight allowance also adds considerable weight to the Honeysuckle claims.
But then Constitution Hill returns serve again with the crucial age factor as Honeysuckle is heading for the twilight of her career at the tender age of nine. Constitution Hill remains a whipper snapper of just five.
The Likely Path To Cheltenham?
Constitution Hill is entered for the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle where he is an 8/15 shot with Boylesports. Nicky Henderson is, however, renowned for having last minute shivers and if there is the slightest doubt that the horse is not right, we might not see him until The Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day. The horse could also kick off proceedings at The Ascot Hurdle over 2 miles 3 furlongs.
Honeysuckle on the other hand will probably be raced lightly and kept for the Irish Champion Hurdle early next year before going straight to Cheltenham.
It is virtually inconceivable that the two will meet before March. But you never know. Considering the degree of scepticism regarding a match between Energumene and Shishkin before last season's Champion Chase, it seems unlikely to occur. But it did happen. Trainers on both sides of The Irish Sea seem to be responding positively to the punter's call to have these big matches in and outside of The Cheltenham Festival, preferably before.
Galopin Des Champs vs A Plus Tard
The Willie Mullins trained Galopin Des Champs was the champion novice chaser last season in the staying division, by some margin. We did not learn a great deal from his Turner’s Chase capitulation but the distance between himself and the classy Bob Olinger told enough of a story.
This horse is pure class although it is jury out for whether he is Cheltenham Gold Cup material or not.
Plenty do think he is the real deal with even Tony Mullins going as far as to say that Galopin is in the Kauto Star range of horse. The bookmakers are also not taking any chances and he is currently installed as favourite for The Cheltenham Gold Cup at 7/2 (Betfred).
It will be interesting to see where Mullins decides to unleash his potential superstar. Galopin is unlikely to appear before Christmas and considering Mullins’ good recent record in the King George VI Chase, it would not surprise anyone to see the horse turn up alongside reigning champ Tornado Flyer. Galopin Des Champs is a 10/1 chance for The King George.
Connections of Cheltenham Gold Cup hero A Plus Tard will probably see no reason not to repeat last season’s successful preparation and he should be out again at Haydock for The Betfair Chase in early November where he is 4/5 with Boylesports.
Can Shishkin Turn The Tables On Energumene?
According to Nicky Henderson in a recent interview with The Racing Post, Shishkin is fully recovered from the rare bone condition which resulted in The Arkle and Supreme Novices champion being pulled up early in The Champion Chase last March, leaving Energumene to take the honours this time around. But the Seven Barrows handler is in no rush to get Shishkin ready for The Tingle Creek next month.
Opinions are divided over whether Shishkin can be rated higher than Energumene. However, it seems that connections of the Willie Mullins star 2-mile chaser learnt a lot from his defeat to Shishkin at Ascot. We could see these two lock horns again at The Tingle Creek as Mullins is increasingly sending his big guns over before The Festival.
The Ditcheat handler and 13 times champion trainer may have turned 60 over the summer but he has not lost any of his zest for the game: Nicky Henderson and rising powerhouse, Dan Skelton will need to raise their game further to stand in Paul Nicholls' path to a 14th title.
The priority these days may not be The Cheltenham Festival but when it comes to Kempton, there is no rival. Paul Nicholls’ team for the King George on Boxing Day is nothing short of formidable. Previous winners, Frodon and Clan Des Obeaux despite hitting their twilight years, are both entered for the Grade One 3-mile chase.
However, the big hope lies in stable darling Bravemansgame who has developed into a formidable chaser at the age of seven. Nicholls has tremendous confidence in this horse, describing him as the “ideal sort for The King George in his second season as a chaser.” He will make his seasonal reappearance in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby this Saturday.
Frodon will attempt to retain his Champion Chase win at Down Royal on November 7th whilst Clan Des Obeaux will be hoping to follow in Denman’s footsteps with a top weight tilt at The Coral Gold Cup late November.
In the 2-mile division, Greaneteen will be hoping to spring another surprise in The Tingle Creek. Sandown very much suits the horse, and The Celebration Chase in April will be another target.
One novice chaser that Nicholls is excited about is Gelino Bello who developed well as a smart novice hurdler last season, culminating with a Grade 1 win in the Sefton Hurdle at Aintree. Likely to reappear as a novice chaser at one of the Newbury meets before Christmas, this is one to keep an eye on. Currently 16/1 for the Brown Advisory Novices Chase at The Cheltenham Festival.
Constitution Hill and Shishkin have already been mentioned so our attention turns to the other stars and potential stars at Seven Barrows.
Henderson has good options in the mares department. Epatante had a brilliant season, landing The Fighting Fifth, runner-up in The Champion Hurdle and proving she stays beyond 2 miles by taking The Aintree Hurdle. The Mares Hurdle is a clear possibility if its apparent that she cannot compete with the likes of Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle. She is a 5/1 shot for this currently (William Hill). Marie’s Rock who won last year’s renewal is also an option at 8/1 (William Hill).
Jonbon, despite his thumping from Constitution Hill in The Supreme, is on course for The Arkle where he is the 4/1 favourite with William Hill, Bet Victor, Betfred and Boylesports. Henderson is happy with the JP McManus owned horse and reports that he has developed well over the summer and has settled down in terms of temperament which was a characteristic of his when going down to the start for his races.
The same can be said of Chantry House who has, according to Henderson, developed into a big 8-year-old over the summer, having also had a wind operation. The Coral Gold Cup at Newbury is an option for him where he is a tempting 20/1 shot with William Hill.
The Cheltenham Festival Championship Race Markets
The Champion Hurdle
It’s all about the front two in the market, although Vauban trained by Willie Mullins will be good value if there are any doubts over the season with Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle.
The Champion Chase
Another dual dominated market with current champion Energumene in line for another saga with Shishkin this season. The incredibly talented but fragile Ferny Hollow is still a very unexposed entry at 8/1.
The Gold Cup
Everyone has it to do to get near A Plus Tard based on his Gold Cup win last season. However, this is contradicted by the market which was clearly impressed with Galopin Des Champs progression through the novice ranks last season. The Willie Mullins star is a marginal favourite in this interesting market. Ahoy Senor, Allaho and Galvin all have appointments coming so the betting here could get very volatile in the coming months. Potentially, this could be one of the highest quality Cheltenham Gold Cup fields assembled for quite some time.
Please note all odds are correct at the time of publishing (8pm 28th October 2022) and are subject to change.