Cheltenham Festival 2022: Champion Day Review
After great anticipation, the Cheltenham Festival is finally upon us and racegoers will be able to get up close and personal with the horses this year as Cheltenham Racecourse returns to full capacity!
From the world-famous Cheltenham roar to the ground-shaking atmosphere, expect the volume in the stands to reach record levels as the tape lifts on the first race of the day – The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The Cheltenham Festival will be a special one in 2022, and if previous years are anything to go by, Champion Day is guaranteed to showcase some exhilarating racing.
From surprise victories to close calls, we’re going to break down the best moments across all seven races from day one of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race – 13:30
Winner: Constitution Hill
The Cheltenham roar echoed through the stands as the tape lifted on the first race of Champion Day – the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
And what a race it was.
Nicky Henderson was looking for a dream open at this year’s Cheltenham Festival and Constitution Hill delivered.
Willie Mullins-trained Dynamic Dynamo led the pack early in the race, with Jonbon and Constitution Hill comfortably behind in second and third, respectively. The three of them were effectively running their own mini race out front as Mighty Potter and Kilcruit just couldn’t keep up with the pace.
It looked like a three-horse race until Dynamic Dynamo fell down at the fifth hurdle, leaving it up to Nicky Henderson-trained Constitution Hill and Jonbon. And 5/2 favourite Constitution Hill never looked in doubt.
He came bounding up the Cheltenham hill, widening his advantage over the final hurdle to bring it home for Nicky Henderson under legendary jockey Nico de Boinville.
So, it’s Nicky and Nico first up on the leaderboard, with the British out ahead of the Irish.
The Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase – 14:10
The action continued to move thick and fast on Champion Day and its British 2-0 Irish.
The second race of Champion Day saw hot favourite and big British hope, Edwardstone, take the crown for Sporting Life Arkle, a huge moment for jockey Tom Cannon.
Magic Daze broke the line and there were a few hairy moments, with Saint Sam falling and Brave Seasca unseating Charlie Deutch early on in the race.
Riviere D’etel and Magic Daze continued out in front for the first few fences, with Red Rookie 10 lengths off pace approaching the third last but the pace soon began to quicken. Riviere D’etel fired forward with two to go, while Gabynako and Blue Lord made eye-catching progress.
But it was Alan King-trained Edwardstone that jumped ahead on the second last.
He stormed up the famous Cheltenham hill, leading clear by almost four lengths as he crossed the post. Gabynako and Blue Lord placed second and third, respectively.
It was Tom Cannon’s first win at the Cheltenham Festival and Alan King’s third in the Arkle Chase. In a post-race interview, Cannon said:
“I’m just delighted really. I have a better relationship with him (Edwardstone) than any human being.”
What a day it’s been so far for punters, with the favourites currently dominating on Champion Day.
The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase – 14.50
Winner: Corach Rambler
All eyes were on Floueur and Frodon in the Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase, but it was Lucinda Russell-trained Corach Rambler that romped to glory in the Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase.
It was a wide opening field, and the pack was still well bunched with three to go, but Corach Rambler speared through on the second to last, breaking through the gap between Gericault Roque and Oscar Elite to take it home.
Despite looking off the pace in the early stages, he loomed large in the middle of the race. It was a great ride from Derek Fox, who celebrates his first-ever win at the Cheltenham Festival.
It’s also another for the North, with two Scottish-trained horses and one English-trained horse on the leaderboard and the Irish still yet to get a winner.
The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – 15:30
Henry de Bromhead has done it again, and the cheers are still ringing loud and clear for Rachael Blackmore and unbeaten wonder-mare Honeysuckle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Is there even a better sporting combination out there right now than Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle?
There was more pressure on Blackmore than ever before, having to come back to Cheltenham Racecourse after winning six races last year and claim the headline race on the card for a second time.
Rachael Blackmore was expected to win. Honeysuckle was expected to win. And neither cracked under pressure.
She ran a huge race, keeping Honeysuckle in close attendance to the leaders in the early stages before powering ahead one out. Epatante and Zanahiyr tried to chase her, but Honeysuckle was in a class of her own, storming ahead to win the Champion Hurdle by a clear margin.
The golden duo walked off the course to a wild celebration from fans. Honeysuckle is now unbeaten in 15 races, while Rachael Blackmore landed her 11th Grade 1 victory. It’s fair to call her a Champion great.
After the race, Blackmore said:
“It’s just a special place (the Cheltenham Festival). And she’s just an incredible mare. The work that goes into her at home is just incredible. They deserve credit.”
It’s now British 3-1 Irish.
The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Race – 16:10
Winner: Marie’s Rock
Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville are off to the perfect start at Cheltenham Festival after Marie’s Rock won the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.
It’s a massive achievement for Henderson as the English have only won the race once before, which was 12 years ago.
While Stormy Ireland and Telmesomethinggirl were the favourites for this race, it was a field full of previous Cheltenham Festival winners – even legendary jockey Ruby Walsh struggled to make a selection.
Western Victory led early in the race, but the pack remained well-bunched heading out on the final circuit. There was a hairy moment with two to go. The runners gathered for the dash for home, and Indefatigable brought down Telmesomething at the penultimate fence, crushing Blackmore’s chances of a second win early out in the Festival.
Queen’s Brook, Mrs Milner and Marie’s Rock pressed forward, with both giving good chase of Nico de Boinville’s mare, but it wasn’t enough.
Following the race, Nico de Boinville said:
“She’s such a gutsy mare. She came into her own today and that was fantastic.”
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race – 16:50
What a finish!
It was a close call, but Brazil, under jockey Mark Walsh, just pips favourite Gaelic Warrior to the post in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race.
The crowds were holding their breath as they went neck-and-neck down the final straight, but 10-1 shot Brazil thrust his nose forward when he needed it most, giving JP McManus another Cheltenham Festival victory.
It’s now Britain 4-2 Ireland – it looks like the UK is walking away with the overall victory on Champion Day.
The Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup – 17:30
It was Elliott vs Mullins in the final race of Champion Day.
Gordon Elliott-trained Run Wild Fred was heavily fancied for the last race of the day, but Willie Mullins-trained Stattler stole the show.
Run Wild Fred set the pace early on in the race, but jockey and son of Willie, Patrick Mullins made his move from three out, easing into the lead and pulling Stattler clear to take it home by eight lengths!
It was Mullins’ first win of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, which has been dominated by the British so far, and Mullins’ Jr fifth Festival victory.
Winning trainer Willie Mullins said:
“We had to wait til the last – this English dominance going on here all day! I thought Patrick was very cool out there; my nerves were in bits going round the whole time, but Patrick just got him into a rhythm, got him jumping and produced him at the right time.”
What a sensational start to the Cheltenham Festival. And no doubt, Champion Day is sure to be followed by some equally gripping moments on day two, Ladies Day.