The 2022 Cheltenham Festival was the first since the government lifted all remaining Covid-19 regulations and, as anticipated, was attended by a record total of 280,627 racegoers over the four days. On the whole, the March showpiece was fairly kind to punters, with 12, or 43%, of the 28 races won by the starting price favourite, or joint-favourite.
The winning market leaders included Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, Allaho in the Ryanair Chase and A Plus Tard in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Shishkin, who was sent off marginal odds-on favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, was never travelling well and was pulled up, leaving the race at the mercy of his main market rival, Energumene. Klassical Dream, favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle, looked the likely winner at one stage, but was less than fluent over the final flight and failed as much as anticipated on the run-in, eventually finishing fifth behind Flooring Porter, who was winning the race for the second year running.
Thus, all the ‘feature’ races of the week went, more or less, as anticipated by the betting market, but the notoriously difficult Festival handicaps were, largely, as impenetrable as ever. In fact, the eight handicap races, hurdles and steeplechases, yielded just one winning favourite, subsequent multiple Grade 1 winner State Man, in the County Handicap Hurdle. The other winners included, in ascending order of starting price, Cool Cody at 22/1, Third Wind at 25/1, Global Citizen at 28/1 and Chambard at 40/1.
Top of the shop, in terms of odds of reward, though, was Commander Of Fleet, trained by Gordon Elliott, who belied odds of 50/1 when scraping home by a short head in the Coral Cup. The eight-year-old gelding had popped up at 40/1 when winning comfortably, off an 8lb lower mark, at Navan in December but, after three unsuccessful starts in Graded company, was largely unconsidered at Cheltenham.