March Sports Preview : Cheltenham Here We Come
There's another great month of sporting action in March. It is of course the month when the Cheltenham Festival takes place, the best National Hunt Festival in the world. That's not all in March though, there's even England defending a World Cup. With world title boxing action in the featherweight division and both Wales and Scotland battling it out for a place at the 2022 World Cup finals, it's going to be one heck of a month.
All Eyes on Cheltenham
From March 15-18, all eyes in the racing world will be focused on the Cheltenham Festival. Get yourself ready for four days of fantastic racing and there are bound to be some emotional moments too.
Could this be the last time we see Tiger Roll race? The two-time Grand National winner won't be going to Aintree this year after being given far too much weight to carry. Instead, he'll be at Cheltenham on Wednesday March 16 (day two of the festival) attempting to win the Cross Country Chase for the fourth time. Despite a poor build-up last season, Tiger Roll easily won the race in 2021. He's again not ran well this season but loves Cheltenham and this race. There won't be a dry eye in the race if he can win again.
The same would be the case if Paisley Park was to win the Stayers' Hurdle. A poor run of form looked to be continuing last time out when left at the start. Somehow he got back into th race and won the Cleeve Hurdle. Can he repeat that performance on Thursday March 17?
Who are the bankers of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival? Honeysuckle is still unbeaten and can win the Champion Hurdle on day one of the festival. Wednesday should see Shishkin win the Champion Chase and Allaho is strongly fancied to win the Ryanair Chase on day three.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the top race of the meeting and takes place on Friday March 18. A Plus Tard is the current favourite to win the Gold Cup. The Henry de Bromhead runner was second last year behind Minella Indo who hasn't had a great season so far. Ridden by Rachael Blackmore, A Plus Tard won the Betfair Chase this season, before finishing second at Leopardstown by Galvin. He only lost by a short head and this is over two furlongs further. A Plus Tard has a great chance of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
England Out to Retain ICC Women's World Cup
It's not too often we get to see England defending a World Cup. That is what will be happening this month in New Zealand as England defend the ICC Women's World Cup. The tournament begins on March 4 with the final taking place on April 3.
England won the World Cup on home soil five years ago, beating India in the final. They have won two of the last three tournaments, though the other success was in 2009. Overall, England have won the World Cup on four occasions, the first time being in the inaugural tournament way back in 1973. Of their four wins, only one has been won overseas, that was the 2009 triumph in Australia.
It's the Australians who are the favourites to lift the trophy for the seventh time. They last won the World Cup in 2013 and come into this tournament, fresh from beating England to retain the Ashes. Elysse Perry is running into good form with both the bat and ball. If Meg Lanning can also maintain her form, then the Australians (who already hold the T20 World Cup) will be hard to beat and can again become world champions.
Will The Long Wait Soon be Over?
Welsh football fans are probably sick of a certain statistic. Not since 1958 have they qualified for the World Cup finals. They did get to the last eight in Sweden all those years ago, but it's now 64 years since that tournament. They have had good results in recent European Championships and the UEFA Nations League but qualifying for the World Cup finals has continually eluded them.
They had little chance of earning automatic qualification after being drawn in the same group as Belgium. Wales were unbeaten at home in their group (drawing 1-1 with Belgium) and finished second, a point ahead of the Czech Republic. They would have qualified for the play-offs though even if finishing third due to their Nations League performances. Wales struggled in their away games so it's good news that both their play-off games will be at home.
Their semi-final sees them host Austria on March 24. The Austrians could only finish fourth in their group behind Denmark, Scotland and Israel. It was their Nations League record that got them into these play-offs. They drew 2-2 in Scotland and lost 5-2 away in Israel. Wales should be able to beat them and go into the final, one game away from those finals.
The other semi-final is likely to be a highly emotional affair but due to the current situation, Scotland won't play Ukraine until June, so even if Wales win this month, they have a wait until having the chance to reach the World Cup finals.
Double Featherweight Action
March sees two fights for world featherweight titles. The action begins in Nottingham with Leigh Wood defending his WBA Featherweight title against unbeaten challenger Michael Conlan on March 12. Wood is the 'regular' champion, with Leo Santa Cruz as the 'super' champion. Yes, boxing continues to be crazy but the more champions, the more sanctioning fees to receive. Wood won the title last year when beating Can Xiu. He was the underdog in that fight but stopped his opponent in the 12th and final round. Now he gets the chance to defend his belt in his home city.
Michael Conlan is the favourite to dethrone the champion. Last August saw him defeat TJ Doheny to win the vacant WBA interim featherweight title. He won that fight on points with two judges giving it to him by five points and the other by 11. He's fought all over the world and even made his professional debut at Madison Square Garden. Conlan has won all of his 16 pro fights and should be able to win the title.
Kiko Martinez holds the IBF version of the world featherweight title. He defends that belt against Josh Warrington in Leeds on March 26. Martinez won the title last year by knocking out the defending champion Kid Galahad in the sixth round. The champion (who was struggling to make the weight) was ahead but then got knocked down in the fifth. It took just one punch and six seconds for Martinez to finish the champion off in the following round. The Spaniard has won 43 pro fights but drawn two and lost ten.
Josh Warrington held this title from 2018 to 2021. He's also beaten Kid Galahad but did so on a 12-round points decision. Warrington was never beaten for the IBF featherweight title and vacated the title hoping to get some bigger fights in America. It went wrong for him though, losing in nine rounds to Mauricio Lara. He'd won all his 30 pro fights before that defeat. A rematch last September lasted just two rounds Lara suffered a cut eye in a clash of heads and the fight was called a technical draw. Now Warrington is back on the title trail. He should be able to get here and again hold the IBF featherweight title.