IT’S that tantalising time of year. Autumn is looming and for most racing fans thoughts start turning from the flat to the jumps. While it might be six months to the Cheltenham Festival, the National Hunt big guns are already being loaded. So what do we have to look forward to this season?
One word. THISTLECRACK. This Rolls-Royce of an animal (pictured above with trainer Colin Tizzard) is poised to make his chasing debut in less than three weeks. His performance in the 2016 World Hurdle will live long in the memory and he is already ante-post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He will make his fencing bow at Chepstow’s two-day October festival from October 8 which is gaining a reputation for being the start of the proper jumps season. Last year ALTIOR and BLAKLION used Chepstow to start their respective seasons and went on to victory at the Cheltenham Festival.
Colin Tizzard has indicated that Thistlecrack will run in the £30,000 Robert Mottram Memorial Novices’ Chase, which has previously been won by stablemate CUE CARD. In addition, Paul Nicholls plans to run hurdlers EL BANDIT and MR MIX in the Persian War Hurdle and Silver Trophy respectively. On Sunday 9 October, former Champion Chaser Sire de Grugy is in line to make his seasonal debut.
Cue Card, meanwhile, will again bid for the £1million Triple Crown bonus offered by Jockey Club Racecourses for winning the Betfair Chase, King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup. He narrowly missed out last season after his heartbreaking fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in a race eventually won by DON COSSACK.
The latter’s subsequent injury appeared to be career threatening but the recent signs from trainer Gordon Elliott are that he could run again this season. Another horse on the comeback trail is CONEYGREE, the 2015 Gold Cup winner, who succumbed to injury last season.
What other equine stars could make an impression this season?
YANWORTH looks certain to be a player in either the Champion Hurdle or World Hurdle. The gut says the longer trip should suit him more.
DOUVAN is possibly the most exciting equine star from Willie Mullins’ conveyor belt of talent. Ten runs, 10 wins, and it will be a huge surprise if he is beaten in what looks a fairly ordinary 2m chase division.
Surely VAUTOUR has to go to the Gold Cup. After the debacle of his last minute rerouting to the Ryanair Chase in 2016, this beautiful jumper will add lustre to the Gold Cup field.
APPLE’S JADE was massively impressive at Aintree and Punchestown and could emerge as a viable challenger to stablemates ANNIE POWER and FAUGHEEN in the Champion Hurdle.
The ante-post markets for Cheltenham are worth an early look and if you are unsure how they work check out this guide on horse racing betting for the best betting sites to visit.