Cheltenham Racecourse offers the perfect opportunity to see in 2016 with a fantastic seven-race programme on New Year’s Day tomorrow, Friday, January 1. Final declarations were made today for the New Year’s Day card, which features two Grade Two contests plus a Grade Three handicap chase.
The richest race of the day is the £60,000 Grade Three Betbright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (1.55pm, 11 runners) over an extended two and a half miles. Grade Two scorer Mr Mole (Paul Nicholls/Barry Geraghty, 11st 12lb) heads the weights, while both the first and third from the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, Village Vic (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson, 10st 10lb) and Tenor Nivernais (Venetia Williams/Aidan Coleman, 10st 11lb) also line up.
Seventh Sky (Charlie Mann/Gavin Sheehan, 11st 6lb) was an impressive winner of the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase on heavy ground at Haydock Park over just short of three miles on December 18, having finished runner-up over the Grand National fences in the Betfred Grand Sefton Handicap Chase on December 5. Earlier this season, the German-bred gelding chased home Coneygree at Sandown Park in November and was also fourth to Vautour in a Grade Two chase at Ascot later the same month.
Mann commented: “Seventh Sky is in very good form and worked well yesterday.
“The ground should suit him at Cheltenham and I am delighted that Paul is running Mr Mole as that keeps the weights down for us.
“He went up 9lb for his win at Haydock which is enough I suppose but he probably won too easily! Ideally, I would have preferred him to go up by 5lb.
“It looks a hot race tomorrow, as you would expect a £60,000 contest to be, but there is nothing else really for him and he goes there in good form.”
The field also includes a pair from Jonjo O’Neill – 2013 Paddy Power Gold Cup victor Johns Spirit (Joshua Moore, 11st 3lb) and Lost Legend (Patrick Cowley (7), 10st 10lb), who was fourth to Little Jon (Nigel Twiston-Davies/James Bargary (5), 10st 9lb) in a two and a half mile handicap chase at Newbury on November 27. Top Gamble (Kerry Lee/Jamie Moore) also contested the same Newbury contest, finishing a good third under top-weight. Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is represented by Mon Successeur (Sam Twiston-Davies, 10st 6lb), an impressive winner at Ascot last time out. Completing the field are Thomas Crapper (Robin Dickin/Charlie Poste) and A Good Skin (Tom George/Paddy Brennan), who both boast winning form at Cheltenham.
Last season’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle scorer Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex/Gavin Sheehan) heads a field of eight for the £40,000 Grade Two Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (3.05pm). The two and a half-mile contest, which has moved to New Year’s Day having previously been run at The International in December, also sees a Nicky Henderson-trained trio go to post – 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth (Barry Geraghty), dual Grade One Liverpool Hurdle winner Whisper (Nico De Boinville) and 2015 JCB Triumph Hurdle runner-up Top Notch (David Bass). A horse stepping up in class is Lil Rockerfeller (Neil King/Trevor Whelan), who was an impressive winner of a Listed handicap hurdle under a big weight at Sandown Park on December 5.
Also set to go to post are the useful Camping Ground (Robert Walford/Leighton Aspell), who reverts to hurdles having unseated his rider in the Peterborough Chase last time out, dual Listed-winning mare Aurore D’Estruval (Rebecca Curtis/Sean Bowen) and Virgilio (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton), who steps up to Graded company following three impressive handicap victories.
A fascinating renewal of the £32,000 Grade Two Betbright #Realfansonly Novices’ Chase (1.20pm) is in prospect with the field of seven for the extended two and a half-mile event including Le Mercurey (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies) and Three Musketeers (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) both lining up. Seeyouatmidnight (Sandy Thomson/Brian Hughes) and Aubusson (Nick Williams/Lizzie Kelly) are both Graded winners over hurdles who have made bright starts to their chasing careers. Volnay De Thaix (Nicky Henderson/Nico De Boinville) was also very useful over hurdles and made a winning debut over fences, while Blaklion (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Ryan Hatch) drops back in trip having scored over three miles and a furlong at The International on December 11. Competing the line-up is Minella Rocco (Jonjo O’Neill/Barry Geraghty), who has disappointed on his two chase starts but was unbeaten over hurdles.
Action gets underway tomorrow with the £10,000 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (12.10pm, 11 runners) and concludes with the £20,000 EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (3.40pm, 9 runners). The remaining races on the card are the Watch Live Racing On betbright.com Handicap Chase (12.45pm, 8 runners) and the Betbright Casino Handicap Hurdle (2.30pm, 16 runners).
The gates open at 10.30am and racegoers are advised to arrive early to avoid queues at peak entrance times.
Going & Weather
The going at Cheltenham is currently Heavy, Soft in places.
There was 20 millimetres of rain from yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon until this morning while showers today could yield a further two to three millimetres. Dry and cooler weather is forecast for New Year’s Day tomorrow.