Cheltenham Festival 2022 guide: When is it, times, big races, top horses, trainers, jockeys and more

The Cheltenham Festival is racing’s Olympics, but fortunately we don’t have to wait four years for it. Planet Sport's Jonathan Doidge delivers his guide to the big races, trainers, jockeys and more.

For four days in March, the world watches on as our equine superstars, prepared and accompanied by some very skilled jockeys, do battle for numerous different championship categories.

It's Great Britain versus Ireland with occasional raiders of other nationalities throwing their hats in the ring. But it's more than just national pride that's at stake.

It's about a place in sporting history and it's a chance when the small stable might just have that one horse that can topple the might and clout of the big hitters.

Here's Planet Sport's essential guide to the stuff you should know about the Cheltenham Festival, so you can sound like an expert.

When is the Cheltenham Festival?

The 2022 Festival takes place from Tuesday March 15 to Friday March 18 inclusive.

During the four day Festival, the first race will always start at 13:30 and the last race goes off at 17:30, with the feature races of each day usually at 15:30. They've kept timings nice and simple.

But be aware these are rough times, as horses don't own wrist watches and don't tend to like lining up in order on time. So you still might have a bit more time to get your bets on. Thoroughbreds eh!

Where is the Cheltenham Festival?

The Festival is staged on a quite breathtaking expanse of land called Prestbury Park, overlooked by Cleeve Hill, the gateway to the Cotswolds. It's just a mile or so north of the spa town that is Cheltenham and is positioned right beside the A435.

The Cheltenham Roar

A packed house - Spectators will return to Cheltenham for the 2022 Festival

From the moment you walk in on day one at Cheltenham, the feel of the place makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. You only have to glance at the magnificent natural amphitheatre that is Prestbury Park to conjure up endless replays of great races, fabulous finishes, desperate defeats, in the mind.

It all starts traditionally at around 13.30pm on Tuesday with the 'Cheltenham Roar'.

We've waited a year to be back here and as the racecourse commentator announces, "They're coming into line for the Supreme" the spectators cannot hold their delight any longer. As the tapes go up, the runners head up towards the stands for the first time to a tumultuous roar. It's almost as if it's staged but it isn't. This is spontaneity. This is excitement. THIS is Cheltenham.

Let's have a look at some of the big races. Even if you are not a horse racing expert you are bound to have heard of some of these.

(Please note the horses have not been declared for the races yet, and are subject to change)

The Cheltenham Gold Cup

Jockey Davy Russell kisses Cheltenham Gold Cup after winning onboard Lord Windermere

Day Four - Friday, March 18, 15:30 GMT

The biggest race of the lot, crowning the champion staying chaser and always the feature on the final day of the card. It can be a gruelling test of both horse and rider.

Some of the greatest jumps horses of all time have lifted this prize, including five-time champion Golden Miller and triple champions Arkle and Best Mate. Current holder is Minella Indo, who should be back to defend his title in March.

Who could win the Cheltenham Gold Cup: Galvin, Minella Indo, Protektorat, A Plus Tard, Chantry House, Tornado Flyer (e/w)

The Champion Hurdle

Day One - Tuesday, March 16, 15:30 GMT

The feature race on day one and the championship for the speedsters, the two-mile hurdlers. Hatton's Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq all won this three times each.

Last year's winner, the darling of Ireland, Honeysuckle, looks set to defend her title in 2022 and will be aiming to maintain her unbeaten record.

Who could win the Champion Hurdle: Honeysuckle, Appreciate It, Eptante, Zanahiyr (e/w)

The Queen Mother Champion Chase

Day Two - Wednesday, March 16, 15:30 GMT

Wednesday each year sees the fastest chasers on four legs go to post for the two-mile championship over the larger obstacles.

The race is named in honour of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who was a wonderful supporter of National Hunt racing.

This race has produced some of the most wonderful performances ever seen at the Festival, the likes of Master Minded, Moscow Flyer before him, and more recently the brilliant Sprinter Sacre and fellow dual winner Altior.

Put The Kettle On won it for Ireland in 2021 and should be back to defend the title this time.

Who could win the Queen Mother Champion Chase: Shishkin, Energumene, Chacun Pour Soi, Nube Negra (e/w)

The Ryanair Chase

Allaho ridden by Rachael Blackmore wins Ryanair Chase at 2021 Cheltenham-festival

Day Three - Thursday, March 17, 14:50 GMT

A relatively new race to the Festival, this championship for the 'in-betweeners', those whose optimum racing distance is at around two-and-a-half miles, was inaugurated in 2005.

Only one horse, Albertas Run in 2010 and 2011, has proved good enough to win the race twice. Other memorable winners have been Cue Card, Vautour and Frodon.

Last year's winner, Allaho, is another champion set to defend his particular crown in March.

Who could win the Ryanair Chase: Allaho, Saint Calvados, Mister Fisher (e/w)

The Stayers' Hurdle

Day Three - Thursday, March 17, 15:30 GMT

While this was on the calendar from the Festival's early days, it has twice been dropped from the meeting for spells, before being rekindled.

There's no doubt that the race has taken on greater prominence since the Festival expanded to four days.

Notable winners since the dawn of the 21st Century include dual French-trained scorer Baracouda, Inglis Driver, who also won it twice, and the impressive Big Buck's who won four successive runnings from 2009-2012.

Flooring Porter won the race for Ireland in 2021 and is yet another defending champion set to return this year.

Who could win the Stayers' Hurdle: Flooring Porter, Klassical Dream, Champ, Thyme Hill, Paisley Park (e/w)

Other Cheltenham Festival races of note

Day One - Tuesday, March 15

13:30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1)

14:10 - Arkle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)

16:10 - Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1)

16:50 - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

17:30 - National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Grade 2)

Day Two - Wednesday, March 16

13:30 - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1)

14:10 - Brown Advisory Novices' Steeple Chase (Grade 1)

14:50 - Coral Cup Hurdle (Grade 3)

16:50 - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (Grade 3)

17:30 - Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1)

Day Three - Thursday, March 17

13:30 - Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1)

16:10 - Paddy Power Plate (Grade 3)

16:50 - Mares Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2)

Day Four - Friday, March 18

13:30 - JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)

14:10 - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

14:50 - Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Race (Grade 1)

16:50 - Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Steeple Chase (Grade 2)

Top trainers

There have been many great trainers throughout the history of the Festival. Here is the pick of the current crop.

Willie Mullins

Willie Mullins

The master of Closutton has become a Cheltenham phenomenon. A record 78 winners have been sent out from Willie Mullins' County Carlaw yard and he looks certain to raise the bar even higher in March.

With the quality of thoroughbred at his disposal it would be a surprise if anyone else becomes the first to train 100 winners at the Festival and at recent rates that may only be four or five years away.

Mullins waited a long time to saddle his first Gold Cup winner but, like the proverbial London bus, once he did so, he struck again immediately with 2019 and 2020 winner Al Boum Photo.

He's also won four Champion Hurdles, two Stayers' Hurdles and four Ryanair Chases. Anything saddled by this man across the four days of the Festival merits the closest of scrutiny.

Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2022:

Tuesday, March 15 : Sir Gerhard - Supreme; Dysart Dynamo - Supreme; Blue Lord - Arkle; Appreciate It - Champion Hurdle; Stattler - National Hunt Challenge Cup

Wednesday, March 16: Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi - Queen Mother Champion Chase; Facile Vega - Champion Bumper

Thursday, March 17: Allaho - Ryanair; Galopin Des Champs - Turners Novices' Chase

Friday, March 18: Vauban - JCB Triumph Hurdle; Al Boum Photo - Gold Cup

Nicky Henderson

Henderson began training in 1978 and has now trained an incredible 70 Cheltenham Festival winners.

Of those, Long Run (2011) and Bobs Worth (2013) won the Gold Cup, while See You Then won the Champion Hurdle in 1985, '86 and '87.

There have been other brilliant performers at the Festival for him too, in the shape of dual Champion Chase winners Sprinter Sacre and another who landed the two-mile championship, Remittance Man.

Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2022:

Tuesday, March 15: Jonbon and Constitution Hill - Supreme

Wednesday, March 16: Shishkin - Queen Mother Champion Chase, Walking On Air - Ballymore

Thursday, March 17: Champ - Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle

Paul Nicholls

Along with Henderson, Nicholls has set the standard at Cheltenham and these is no doubting his status as one of the greats.

The Ditcheat maestro was responsible for two modern greats in Kauto Star, the first horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup (2007, 2009) and Denman, who won the race in 2008 and was runner-up on three further occasions.

A total of 46 Festival winners have been sent out from his yard, six of them successful in the Champion Chase, including spectacular dual winner Master Minded (2008, 2009).

He also won four successive Stayers' Hurdles with Big Buck's (2009-2012) and he has a Champion Hurdle and three Ryanair Chases on his CV.

Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2022:

Tuesday, March 15: Threeunderthrufive - National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Novices' Chase

Wednesday, March 16: Bravemansgame - Brown Advisory Novices' Chase; Stage Star - Ballymore

Thursday, March 17: Saint Calvados - Ryanair Chase 

Gordon Elliott

One man who could seriously challenge Mullins and Henderson at the top of the Cheltenham tree could be Gordon Elliott. He was born in the year that Henderson took out a licence but has wasted no time in winning just about every big pot you can think of.

Already on the 32-winner mark at the Cheltenham Festival, Elliott saddled 2017 Gold Cup winner Don Cossack and also Tiger Roll, who has won four Festival races in addition to his two Grand Nationals, and looks set to return to Prestbury Park in 2022.

Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2022:

Tuesday, March 15: Pied Piper – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; Riviere D’etel – Arkle; Teahupoo – Champion Hurdle; Run Wild Fred and Fury Road – National Hunt Challenge Cup

Wednesday, March 16: Tiger Roll – Cross Country Chase; American Mike – Champion Bumper

Thursday, March 17: Party Central – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

Friday, March 18: Pied Piper and Fil Dor – Triumph Hurdle; Ginto – Albert Bartlett; Galvin – Gold Cup; Mount Ida and Riviere D’etel – Mares’ Chase

Henry de Bromhead

Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead after Honeysuckle ridden by Rachael Blackmore won the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham.

De Bromhead did not train his first Festival winner until 2010 but has now chalked up 15 of them from his base at Knockeen, County Waterford.

Three of those have come in the Queen Mother Champion Chase through Sizing Europe (2011), Special Tiara (2017) and Put The Kettle On (2021).

The 49-year-old trainer also saddled a Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double in 2021, with Honeysuckle winning the former and Minella Indo the latter.

Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2022:

Tuesday, March 15: Honeysuckle - Champion Hurdle; Telmesomethinggirl - Close Brothers' Mares' Hurdle

Wednesday, March 16: Journey With Me - Ballymore or Albert Bartlett (Fri 18)

Thursday, March 17: Bob Olinger - Turners Novices' Chase 

Friday, March 18: Minella Indo and A Plus Tard - Cheltenham Gold Cup

Dan Skelton

Definitely one for the future, Skelton only 'graduated' to winning Festival races as recently as 2019 and at the moment has four winners to his name.

His time will come. Note that three of his four winners were delivered in the unbelievably competitive County Handicap Hurdle.

Surely it is just a matter of time before the Alcester handler is winning championship races, and anything he saddles in Cheltenham week merits respect.

Leading fancies at Cheltenham 2022:

Tuesday, March 15: Third Time Lucki - Arkle

Wednesday, March 16: Nube Negra - Queen Mother Champion Chase

Thursday, March 17: Est Est Belle - Mares' Novices' Hurdle

Friday, March 18: Protektorat - Cheltenham Gold Cup

Top jockeys

While trainers rightly get huge recognition for preparing their horses to deliver on the big day, it's the jockeys who really grab the limelight.

For somewhere between four and nine minutes, depending on the length of the race, these men and women get the best view in the house and have their names etched in racing history as Cheltenham Festival winners.

Here are some of the best ones to watch in 2022.

Paul Townend

Jockey Paul Townend celebrates after winning the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase during day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse

Townend had to wait in the wings for a long time as second jockey to the incomparable Ruby Walsh at the Willie Mullins yard.

It's not surprise then that, post-Ruby's retirement, he has been firing in the winners, given such strong ammunition to sit on. Now with 15 successes to his name, that number can only grow and grow, given that the 31-year-old has plenty of years left in the saddle.

Biggest winner: Al Boum Photo (Gold Cup - 2019 and 2020)

Davy Russell

It is staggering to think that Russell rode his first Festival winner as long ago as 2006, when Native Jack won the Cross Country Chase.

Since then he has only left Prestbury Park empty-handed on two occasions, in 2019 and 2021.

Biggest winner: Lord Windermere (Gold Cup 2014)

Rachael Blackmore

Rachael Blackmore

What a three years at Cheltenham it has been for the 32-year-old from County Tipperary.

Her first Festival winner came in 2019 on A Plus Tard, going on to land her first Grade 1 at the meeting, when Minella Indo landed the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle in the same year.

The 2020 Cheltenham Festival saw her partner Honeysuckle to success in the Mares' Hurdle, and the partnership then stepped up to win the 2021 Champion Hurdle, making Blackmore the first female jockey to win hurdling's blue riband.

In all, she rode an incredible six winners at the 2021 Festival, becoming the first woman to win the Ruby Walsh Trophy for leading jockey at the meeting.

Following all of that, we cannot fail to mention her outstanding achievement of being the first woman to ride the winner of the Grand National, when she partnered Minella Times to success last April.

She could again be set to provide us with one of the great moments of the 2022 Festival, when back on board the unbeaten Honeysuckle, in defence of their Champion Hurdle crown.

Biggest Cheltenham winner: Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle 2021)

Harry Skelton

Much like brother Dan, here is a man for the future. Skelton has ridden three of those winners trained by his brother to win, plus 2019 Queen Mother Champion Chase scorer Politologue, for Paul Nicholls.

His tally of four is clearly a Cheltenham Festival career in its infancy, but expect to see many more before he hangs up his saddle.

A superb horseman, fabulous judge of pace and a real giver of confidence to his mounts as they approach their obstacles, whatever Dan achieves, Harry will be along for the ride.

He'll also surely pick up more Festival winners for other yards in years to come.

Biggest Cheltenham winner: Politologue (Champion Chase 2019)

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