Cheltenham Racecourse welcomes in 2017 on New Year’s Day this Sunday, with Lil Rockerfeller (Neil King) set to line up in the £40,000 Grade Two Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (3.10pm), one of the highlights of a superb seven-race card.
The five-year-old was runner-up to Camping Ground (Robert Walford) in the extended two and a half-mile race 12 months ago and went on to capture the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell Park in February before ending the campaign with a creditable seventh in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at The Festival.
Lil Rockerfeller has improved again this season and was second to Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Unowhatimeanharry on his latest outing in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle over an extended three miles at Ascot on December 17.
That came on the back of an excellent effort at the same course in the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle on November 19, when he went down by three-quarters of a length to subsequent Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle victor Yanworth
King, who is based in Wiltshire, said today: “We were not originally planning to run at this meeting but Lil Rockerfeller came out of the Long Walk so well that we thought we better pop an entry in and, as things stand, he will run. He was second last year and it looks a good race for him.
“I thought it was a very good run in the Long Walk and he seems to be getting better with each start this year. He improved last season and is continuing on an upward curve.
“His form also looks pretty strong now having seen what Yanworth did on Boxing Day and we all know what Unowhatimeanharry is about.”
The 11 entries for the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle also include six-time course scorer The New One (Nigel Twiston-Davies), who could turn out quickly after finishing second to Yanworth on Boxing Day, and Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex), winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival in 2015.
Further Grade 2 action on New Year’s Day is provided by the £32,000 BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase (1.25pm), which has attracted 13 entries including Charbel (Kim Bailey), who was runner-up in the Grade 1 Racing Post Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park on December 3.
Clan Des Obeaux (Paul Nicholls) readily took a Grade 2 novices’ chase at Newbury in November, while talented mare Briery Belle (Henry Daly) is unbeaten in two appearances over fences. Grand Sefton Handicap Chase scorer As De Mee (Paul Nicholls) and Whisper (Nicky Henderson), successful in the Ryman Novices’ Chase at The International, have also been engaged in the near two mile, five furlong contest.
The £60,000 BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (2.00pm), over the same trip, could see the second, third and fourth from the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at The International re-oppose with Aso (Venetia Williams), Village Vic (Philip Hobbs) and Quite By Chance (Colin Tizzard) all holding entries.
Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies) could make his first appearance at Cheltenham since finishing second in the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase at The Festival in March, with dual Grade 2 winner Top Gamble (Kerry Lee) and the 2014 Irish Grand National victorShutthefrontdoor (Jonjo O’Neill) also among the 23 entries.
Racing gets underway with the Listed Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (12.15pm, 14 entries) over an extended two and a half miles, in which Messire Des Obeaux (Alan King) could bid to follow up a game victory in a Grade 2 novices’ hurdle at Sandown Park.
Aubusson (Nick Williams), a Grade 1 runner-up over hurdles in France, heads 36 contenders for the £20,000 Watch Live Racing On BetBright.com Handicap Chase (12.50pm) over an extended three and a quarter miles, while 31 entries for the £20,000 three-mile BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle (2.35pm) includes the 2014 Pertemps Network Final winner Fingal Bay (Philip Hobbs).
The action concludes with the Listed £20,000 EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open NH Flat Race (3.40pm), which has 23 entries headed by impressive Newbury scorer Cap Soleil (Fergal O’Brien).