‘Tis the season to be jolly if you’re a horse-racing fan.
No, Frankel, Shergar and Arkle haven’t replaced the reindeers at Santa’s Grotto.
But a fascinating, informative cracker of a racing programme is all set to illuminate the Christmas and New Year holiday in the UK and Ireland.
The festive bandwagon starts its journey at Ascot’s pre-Christmas this coming weekend. It moves on to Kempton on Boxing Day, which stages one of the great races of the jumping year, the King George, and the following day when the mighty SPRINTER SACRE makes his eagerly-awaited seasonal re-appearnce.
Boxing Day also signals the start of a magnificent four-day meeting at Leopardstown, which features seven Grade One races and always throws up a string of Cheltenham Festival clues from across the Irish Sea.
Next up is Welsh Grand National Day at Chepstow on Saturday 28th December, which is also the date for the Grade One Challow Hurdle for novices at Newbury.
Finally it’s on to Cheltenham for their big meeting on New Year’s Day, which represents the curtain-raiser to 2014 and starts the downhill run to the Festival itself in March.
Add the many varied domestic meetings up and down the country, including ten on Boxing Day, and it’s clear the festive season presents a racing feast with all the trimmings.
To help through the fortnight, our resident racing expert RICHARD ‘SCOOP’ SILVERWOOD has come up with this batch of horses to look out for. Follow him on Twitter at @scoopSilverwood.
Willie Mullins’s speedy, spring-heeled French-bred filly is probably the best juvenile hurdler seen so far this season. Heading for the Triumph Hurdle.
Another potential star from the Irish yard of champion trainer Willie Mullins. The four-year-old novice hurdler wants decent ground, but was unlucky in a Grade One last time.
A six-year-old grey novice that trainer Willie Mullins is convinced could go to the top of the chasing ladder. Will be stepped up in trip to 2m4f or 3m as the season progresses.
BRIGHT NEW DAWN
Game and genuine six-year-old with an attitude to die for. Trained in Ireland by Dessie Hughes, he mixed it with the best in novice hurdles last term and has now taken to fences like a duck to water.
Not seen since making an impressive winning debut for the Paul Nicholls yard, but the five-year-old chaser is capable of picking up a big prize at around 2m4f.
CAID DU BERLAIS
Produced as polished a chasing debut display earlier this month as you could wish to see. Paul Nicholls’s four-year-old is sure to make the grade in very good company.
Winner of the best juvenile hurdle seen so far this season, the form of which has already been franked, Paul Nicholls’s purchase from France is already on the Triumph shortlist.
Fast-improving staying novice hurdler with Philip Hobbs, who might be tempted to grab a big pot in handicaps to help repay the £120,000 forked out for him.
David Pipe’s expensive recruit from France tanked round Cheltenham to land the Greatwood Hurdle on his UK debut. Now he must go close in this Saturday’s Ladbroke at Ascot.
Rated by the Paul Nicholls yard only just behind the season’s top 2m novice chaser so far, stablemate Hinterland. Earmarked for Kempton over Christmas.
Smart former stayer on the Flat, Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old grey is getting on a bit for a novice hurdler, but won as he liked at Plumpton three weeks ago.
Five-year-old Paul Nicholls-trained mare who made an eyecatching UK and hurdles debut at Newbury last month behind a very useful winner.
KAPGA DE CERISY
Big, young chaser who needs testing ground, but gallops all day and can land more decent prizes for the Venetia Williams stable, especially when upped to 3m.
A prolific point-to-point winner, Harry Fry’s chaser has made an eye-popping start to his career under Rules. Not to be ignored against any opposition, providing the ground is not too Soft.
Probably the best of this season’s novice hurdle recruits from the Flat at the John Ferguson stable. Rated as high as 105 on the level, he bolted up on his timber debut at Doncaster.
Cost a staggering £250,000 when bought after his Bumper debut last term. But the manner in which Willie Mullins’s five-year-old won his first start over hurdles, he could be worth it.
NUTS N BOLTS
Judging by the way he improved for a marathon trip on his seasonal bow, Lucinda Russell’s lightly-raced chaser could be an each/way steal for the Welsh National.
Marked his debut for Willie Mullins’s battalion of novice hurdlers by unleashing a telling turn of foot at Cork. Bigger races at bigger tracks await now.
It’s hard to imagine a more polished performance ending in defeat than that put up by Paul Nicholls’s Hennessy Gold Cup runner-up. He could develop into a Gold Cup contender.
A tilt at the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury is on the cards for Philip Hobbs’s likeable novice after a couple of hugely impressive wins at Aintree and Leicester.
Two terrific performances so far this term have established Paul Nicholls’s improving four-year-old as one of his best 2m hurdlers. Don’t under-estimate him.
SAPHIR DU RHEU
Gorgeous, scopy chasing sort who took time to get going this term, but slaughtered a fair field at Sandown when stepped up to a staying trip. Much more to come, says trainer Paul Nicholls.
Lightly-raced, well-bred hurdler, trained by David Pipe, who is expected to make a splash on his seasonal re-appearance very soon. Probably best at 2m.
A ray of hope for the struggling Donald McCain yard. A relentless galloper who jumped them dizzy at Haydock last month and now goes for the Welsh National.
THE NEW ONE
All set to take on My Tent Or Yours at Kempton over Christmas -- en route to the Champion Hurdle in March. Pace and power make him unbeatable.
Alan King’s flashy six-year-old couldn’t quite trouble the best in novice hurdles. But over fences, he’s a natural and could be quite a sight at Kempton over Christmas.
Considered too speedy for point-to-points in Ireland, Nicky Henderson’s quickened up nicely to win on his UK novice hurdle debut, even though he needed the run.
A seriously impressive performance debut at Navan suggests this four-year-old recruit from France could be Willie Mullins’s leading hope for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
A dark horse from the small northern yard of Rose Dobbin, this six-year-old ex-pointer is well worth following on the evidence of his victory in a novice hurdle last time.