Ireland had 18 winners compared to Britain's ten at last year's festival. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Five great storylines to look forward to at Cheltenham next week

The Cheltenham Festival takes place from 14-17 March.

ARE YOU HEADING to Cheltenham next week? Home to some of the finest racing in the world, excitement is building and storylines are brewing as the clock ticks down to the 2023 Cheltenham festival. Bookmakers are predicting more Irish domination, but it’s not only stats and trivia that some people might be thinking about.

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With finances sorted, keep reading for five great storylines we’ve compiled ahead of the festival. 

1. Rachael and Honeysuckle

Two record-breaking gals. Rachael Blackmore, as a very rare top female Jumps jockey, has done unquantifiable good for racing by winning top races at the Cheltenham Festival and also an Aintree Grand National. Honeysuckle was 16 from 16, having never been beaten, coming into this season; those wins included three at Cheltenham and two Champion Hurdles. Her two starts this season ended in defeat so she is to reroute to the Mares’ Hurdle on Tuesday, the race immediately after the Champion Hurdle. She is favourite to win it but is she the horse she once was? Her trainer Henry de Bromhead tragically lost his son, Jack, last summer. Victory for ‘Honey’ would be hugely emotional on many levels.

2. Constitution Hill the best yet?

One of the reasons connections of Honeysuckle are swerving the big one on day one is that nobody really believes she can beat Constitution Hill. Moreover, most believe nobody can beat him. The Champion Hurdle is one of the greatest races in the world and it seems probable that Constitution Hill will be the shortest-price favourite in the event’s storied history. Former jockey Barry Geraghty bought the horse as a foal and sold him on to be trained by his old boss, Eton graduate and veteran handler Nicky Henderson. Constitution Hill quickly became an utter revelation. He has won all his races for Henderson and the belief is growing that he could be the best ever. Perhaps even better than Arkle! His main rival is State Man, a brilliant horse in his own right and trained by Willie Mullins.

3. Mullins v the British

Bookmakers are predicting more Irish domination at the Cheltenham Festival this year and with good reason. For so many years Irish trainers were happy to come away from Prestbury Park with a couple of winners. But recent times have seen the order swing dramatically in the other direction, with Ireland having 18 winners compared to Great Britain’s ten at last year’s festival. Part of the reason is how strong Willie Mullins has become as a trainer. Last year his eventual haul of ten put him level with all British trainers combined – having beaten them 6-5 in 2021 – and helped Ireland again finish comfortable winners of the Prestbury Cup, with all seven races on Friday going the way of Irish raiders. Mullins will probably again have more winners this year than all British trainers combined.

4. No Jack so Davy is back

Injury has forced the luckless Jack Kennedy to miss the Prestbury Park highlight for the second time in his career. Now very much the number one rider for Gordon Elliott, the 23-year-old was in action for his boss aboard Top Bandit when the pair came to grief in a race at Naas in January. Staggeringly, he had broken his leg for a fifth time. The Dingle native has made good progress in his recovery and it was only a week and a half before the Festival that it was confirmed it would come too soon. Following Kennedy’s injury, three-time Irish champion Davy Russell sensationally came out of retirement to fill the void. The veteran jockey enjoyed Grade One success at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival aboard the Elliott-trained Mighty Potter, who is hot favourite for the Turners’ Novices’ chase. Russell will have a superb book of rides less than three months after he called it a day at Thurles.

5. Barry for the double?

Every year there are bullish men and women getting on the plane or boat to Cheltenham – and then there is Barry Connell. The stockbroker-turned-jockey-turned trainer has never had a runner in Britain before – not that you can tell from talking to him. Asked about the chances of his two runners, the rookie trainer is not hiding. “I expect both to win,” he says. And with Connell having a sensational strike-rate in Ireland this season, few will be confident he can be stopped in the Costwolds with either Marine Nationale or Good Land. O’Connell has what he believes are the best two novice hurdlers in Ireland. Jockey Michael O’Sullivan will ride both.

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