Some might consider it still too early to start looking ahead to the 2022/23 National Hunt racing campaign, as the flat racing season is still in full flow, but fans of the jumps will already be eagerly anticipating the return of hurdles and will be adding promising horses to their trackers as we speak.
Of course, all roads now lead to the Cheltenham Festival as far as National Hunt racing in the UK and Ireland is concerned — with a victory in one of the four-day, Prestbury Park meeting’s prestigious 28 races the ultimate goal for every owner and trainer in the sport.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at four horses who could be paraded around the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure next March.
A horse that really impressed as a juvenile last season, Facile Vega went four for four in National Hunt flat races — including a Group 2 victory at Leopardstown on his second outing before Group 1 successes in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and the Punchestown Champion I.N.H Flat Race.
He should have no issues over obstacles in this upcoming season and he’s already one of the most backed horses in the Cheltenham ante-post markets — where he is the favourite to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Festival’s opening race, in the horse racing betting odds. The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old could become a real fan favourite.
A fairly obvious one, all eyes will be on Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill next season. Honeysuckle has dominated the hurdling division for years now, winning the last two renewals of the Champion Hurdle en route to her current 16-race unbeaten streak, but this five-year-old looks set to steal her crown.
Arguably the best performer of last year’s Cheltenham Festival, blowing away the rest of the promising field to win the Supreme by a whopping 22 lengths, Constitution Hill has Honeysuckle in his sights and Jumps followers will be hoping to see the pair clash as soon as possible after a meeting at the Punchestown Festival never materialised at the end of last year.
The Nice Guy
Despite heading to Cheltenham with a 100 percent strike rate from his three races under rules, winning two flat races and a Maiden Hurdle at Naas by eight lengths on his first attempt over obstacles, The Nice Guy was unfancied at 18/1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
However, the Mullins-trained horse went on to beat his stablemate Minella Cocooner by five lengths in the Grade 1 contest and he bettered the same horse again at Punchestown, winning the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle.
The unbeaten seven-year-old could be switched to fences and looks a solid bet at 6/1 for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
Galopin Des Champs
The 70,000 punters crammed in to the Prestbury Park concourses for the first time since 2020 couldn’t believe their eyes last year when the highly-rated Galopin Des Champs took a tumble in the Turners Novices’ Chase — getting his foot caught in the reins when 12 lengths ahead at least, which brought him and Paul Townend down in shocking fashion.
But the six-year-old, again trained by Mullins, proved his true class once again at Fairyhouse in April — beating Master McShee by 18 lengths in the Grade 1 Gold Cup Novice Chase. His three wins in four race amassed almost a 50-length aggregate last season and he’s being heavily tipped to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.