New Year’s Day sees the traditional Cheltenham meeting, with a quality-packed card headlined by three Graded contests, to get the year off to a cracking start.

First up comes the Grade 2 BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase over two miles, four furlongs and 166 yards.

O O Seven Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

O O Seven
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

O O Seven proved a useful novice hurdler last season winning three times, including a ¾ of a length defeat of Fagan at Musselburgh in February. The Nicky Henderson trained 6 year old also ran 2 ¼ lengths second to Yorkhill in a Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle contested in heavy Sandown Park ground in early January. He was a well beaten 8th of 11 behind Yorkhill at the Cheltenham Festival and then ran 10 lengths second of 9 to Jer’s Girl in the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in late April. He made a winning debut over fences at Cheltenham in mid-November, beating Sizing Tennessee by an impressive 10 lengths, with his trainer feeling he would need the run beforehand. In mid-December he headed to Doncaster for a Grade 2 contest but was disappointingly one-paced over three miles, finishing 3 ½ lengths third of 4 to Present Man. He now drops back down in trip.

Whisper ridden by Davy Russell (left) trails Baron Alco ridden by Jamie Moore over the last fence before going on to win the Ryman Novices' Chase Race Image supplied by The Jockey Club : Picture by Julian Herbert PA Wire/PA Images

Whisper ridden by Davy Russell (left) trails Baron Alco ridden by Jamie Moore over the last fence before going on to win the Ryman Novices’ Chase Race
Image supplied by The Jockey Club : Picture by Julian Herbert PA Wire/PA Images

Whisper was a very smart staying hurdler at his best, twice winning the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree. However, he proved a bitter disappointment when sent chasing on New Year’s Day 2015, finishing 3 ¼ lengths second of 7 to Ceasar Milan at Exeter. Nicky Henderson decided to return the 9 year old to hurdling, when he won his second Liverpool Hurdle by 3 ½ lengths from the World Hurdle winner Cole Harden in April of that year. Last term Whisper was badly out of sorts, but he returned in early December at Cheltenham – and looked more assured over fences, as he beat Baron Alco by 2 ½ lengths.

Clan Des Obeaux is clear at Newbury Image supplied by Newbury Racecourse

Clan Des Obeaux is clear at Newbury
Image supplied by Newbury Racecourse

 

Clan Des Obeaux is a fascinating runner for Paul Nicholls and looked a really exciting chasing recruit last time out. The 5 year old landed a bumper race in France before joining Nicholls and made a big impression on his English debut, beating Jaleo by 21 lengths at Newbury in mid-December. The following month he stepped up into Grade 2 company and ran well in a Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham, finishing 1 ¼ lengths second of 6 to Protek Des Flos. In the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle itself, he was far from disgraced in finishing 15 lengths 6th of 15 to Ivanovich Gorbatov. He made his chasing debut at Chepstow in early October, finishing 3 ¾ lengths fourth of 6 to Rock The Kasbah. He looked a very different proposition when landing the Grade 2 Berkshire Novices’ Chase at Newbury in late November by 10 lengths from the very useful Virgilio. Nicholls has given him plenty of time and he now takes the next step in his progress.

Briery Belle took plenty of time to find her rhythm on the racecourse, but hit top form at the start of 2016 and has not stopped improving. The Henry Daly trained 8 year old won a Huntingdon maiden hurdle in mid-January and after finishing second to the smart mare The Organist, at Doncaster in early March, landed a Listed mares only handicap hurdle at Cheltenham by 3 lengths from Debdebdeb in April. She made a winning debut over fences with a 8 lengths defeat of Vintage Clouds at Carlisle in early November and a month later followed-up in a Listed mares novice chase at Warwick, defeating the very useful Desert Queen by 6 lengths.

After showing promise in his only point to point, Never Equalled took time to find his way in bumpers and hurdles races, but won twice last winter and was 16 ½ lengths fifth of 8 to Mister Miyagi in a Cheltenham novice hurdle race in mid-April. He returned to action and made his novice chase debut at Ffo Las in early November, but finished a tailed off last of 3 to Binge Drinker. The Bernard Llewellyn trained 8 year old improved on his next start when 2 ¾ lengths second of 6 to Potters Legend at Bangor later that month. This is a big step up in class.

 

 

Next is the Grade 3 Betbright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase over two miles, four furlongs and 166 yards.

Top Gamble Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Top Gamble
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Kerry Lee enjoyed a remarkable start to the year and her meteoric rise was exemplified by the progression made by Top Gamble, who consequently shoulders top weight here. This 9 year old recorded a hat-trick of victories as a novice chaser, but pulled up on his return at Chepstow in October of last year, before running an encouraging race when 5 ¾ lengths third of 12 to Little Jon at Newbury in late November 2015. He headed to Cheltenham for a competitive handicap chase on New Year’s Day, finishing 3 ¾ lengths third of 11 to Village Vic in New Year’s Day. Then in mid-February came his big moment as he got the better of a returning Dodging Bullets in tiring ground, galloping his rivals into submission with a 10 lengths victory in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. In late March he travelled to Fairyhouse and made it back to back Grade 2 successes with a 7 lengths defeat of Sizing Granite in the Normans Grove Chase. He returned to action in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November, finishing 25 lengths fifth of 8 to Fox Norton.

Village Vic was successful at Cheltenham Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Village Vic has a fine Cheltenham record
Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Village Vic really made his mark in Cheltenham handicap chases last winter, winning this race. Last season the Philip Hobbs trained 10 year old returned to action with a neck defeat of Upepito at Wetherby in October and made it back to back victories when beating Quito Du Tresor by 3 ¼ lengths at Musselburgh in early November. He then headed to Cheltenham in December for the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and off bottom weight, ran out a 4 ½ lengths winner from stable mate Champagne West. He returned to Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and completed his four-timer in another Grade 3 handicap chase, beating Tenor Nivernais by 3 lengths. He then ran in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and ran prominently for a long way before fading to finish 25 lengths 9th of 15 to Vautour. In April he tackled the Grand National course in the Topham Chase, finishing a tailed off 13th of 29 behind Eastlake. He returned in the BetVictor Gold Cup last month and made almost all of the running, but was agonisingly caught in the final strides by Taquin Du Seuil. He rose two pounds in the handicap and put up another tremendously gutsy front-running display in the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham in early December, fading in the home straight before battling back to finish 1 ¾ lengths third of 16 to Frodon.

Vaniteux wins at Kempton Park Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Vaniteux wins at Kempton Park
Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Vaniteux was a classy hurdler at his very best, and made up into a very useful novice chaser last season, winning twice, including a 3 ¼ lengths defeat of Arzal in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster last January. The Nicky Henderson trained 8 year old was beaten ½ a length by Armad at this meeting a year ago and later unseated his rider in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March. He put up a decent effort on his seasonal return, finishing 5 lengths third of 9 to Sire De Grugy in an Ascot handicap chase in late November. In early December he headed to Cheltenham for a similar type of contest and was a little one-paced in finishing 6 ¼ lengths third of 11 behind Eastlake.

Annacotty (left)  Image by Tattersalls Ireland

Tenor Nivernais (right) in action at Cheltenham
Image by Tattersalls Ireland

Tenor Nivernais enjoyed a fine season last time around and showed good form at Cheltenham. The Venetia Williams trained 10 year old made a winning return to action when beating Garrahalish by a spectacular 27 lengths at Ascot in November and followed-up with three fine placed efforts at Cheltenham. He ran 5 ½ lengths third of 14 to Village Vic in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in early December and on New Year’s Day finished 3 lengths second of 11 to the same horse. On Cheltenham Trials Day he again put up a bold show and came 1 ¼ lengths second of 12 to Annacotty. The following month he stepped up to three miles at Kempton Park in the BetBright Cup, but was pulled up behind Theatre Guide. In mid-April he returned to Cheltenham for a valuable handicap chase, coming home 28 lengths fifth of 8 to Voix D’Eau. He made a belated reappearance in a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase at Ascot just before Christmas, running well over 3 miles to finish 2 ¼ lengths third of 14 behind Regal Encore.

Shantou Flyer was a fair novice chaser last season and has now moved from the Irish base of Colin Bowe to Rebecca Curtis. The 7 year old won three times over fences last term. He beat the useful As De Ferbet by 2 ¼ lengths in a beginners’ chase at the Galway Festival in late July 2015, but was 5 lengths second to Perfect Promise at the same venue in early September. At the end of that month he beat Shadow Catcher by ½ a length at Sligo and he made it back to back victories when defeating Weather Babe by 1 ½ lengths at Cheltenham in October. He completed his hat-trick with a 1 ¼ lengths defeat of Captain Von Trappe in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown in mid-November and looks a leading player here. He had a break after his run of victories was ended with a comprehensive defeat in the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse, when he finished 31 lengths fifth of 7 to No More Heroes. However, his return was most disappointing as he pulled up in the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan in February and he was a faller in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March. The following month he got round but was well beaten, finishing 8 ¾ lengths fifth of 9 to Zabana in the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival. After a break he ran a fine race in the Galway Plate Trial at Down Royal in mid-June, finishing a nose second of 10 to Elegant Statesman. However, he was a well beaten 9th of 24 behind Lord Scoundrel in the Galway Plate in late July and has not raced since. He makes his debut for Curtis here.

Henri Parry Morgan Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Henri Parry Morgan
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Henri Parry Morgan comes into this race in good form but is still light on experience over fences. The Peter Bowen trained 9 year old was a distant last of 5 to Blameitalonmyroots at Bangor in November and a month later unseated his rider at Newbury. He then had a break and returned at Chepstow in a novices’ handicap chase in late February, beating Bears Rails by 10 lengths. He skipped Cheltenham and instead headed to Uttoxeter the following Saturday, beating Delgany Demon by an emphatic 15 lengths in a valuable novices’ handicap chase. He then ran a screamer in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in early April, finishing 3 lengths second of 8 to Native River. Later that month he took on seasoned chasers in the Grade 3 Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, but unseated his rider. He returned to action in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in late November, but faded late on to finish 27 lengths 11th of 19 behind Native River. On Boxing Day he contested the Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby, but blundered and unseated his rider. He now drops in trip.

The Colin Tizzard stable continues to thrive and that has been exemplified by the performances of Quite By Chance. A useful novice last season, with back to back victories at Wincanton, this 8 year old has stepped up a notch this autumn. He was a well beaten 6th of 9 behind Art Mauresque, at Newton Abbot in early May, but made a fine return to action when landing a Listed handicap chase at Ascot in October, beating Noche De Reyes by 6 lengths. A month later he gave chase to the top class Sire De Grugy in another handicap chase at the Berkshire track, finishing 1 ½ lengths second of 9. In December he contested the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, finishing 2 ¼ lengths fourth of 16 behind Frodon.

Shutthefrontdoor returns at Aintree on Saturday Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Shutthefrontdoor 
Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Shutthefrontdoor continues to plough a strange, meandering pathway, seemingly back to the Grand National, via a number of unlikely races, presumably aimed at keeping his handicap mark down. The one-time Cheltenham Gold Cup hope and former Irish Grand National winner ran fifth in the 2015 Grand National behind Many Clouds, when he seemed not to stay. The Jonjo O’Neill trained 10 year old has run nothing at nothing like the level of his best since, running in a mixture of seemingly unsuitable handicap hurdles and chases and never seen to his best. He was a tailed off 9th behind Rule The World in the latest Grand National and has been tailed off in two starts this season. It is to be hoped that his loss of form has legitimate reasons and that all problems are behind him now. Protecting handicap marks by running a horse in races they are not competitive in is not an endearing element to racing and has seen plenty of horses deservedly missing out on a place in the Grand National in recent years. It would be great to see Shutthefrontdoor come back to his best form which would give him a big chance, but if he did, that would not help his handicap mark. Let’s hope he is running at Cheltenham at 100 per cent and is given every chance to win.

As De Mee Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

As De Mee
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

As De Mee was a very useful novice hurdler for Paul Nicholls and had a decent first campaign over fences last term. He showed promise on his chasing debut in October 2015, finishing 3 lengths second of 7 to the vastly more experienced Cocktails At Dawn at Chepstow. The following month he bumped into the very class More Of That, running 2 ½ lengths second of 7 to the former World Hurdle winner and showing super potential. He then took on some cracking two-mile novices in the Grade 1 Henry VIIIth Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park and was tapped for toe, finishing 21 lengths third of 6 to the smart Ar Mad. That was no disgrace and he then stepped up to 3 miles for the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, but was well held when falling. He was not seen out again until early February, when he contested the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park, running well but no match for Bristol De Mai, finishing 6 lengths second of 4. He then headed to Cheltenham and the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase, finishing 17 ½ lengths fifth of 7 to Black Hercules. In early April he jumped around the Grand National Course in the Topham Chase, finishing 26 lengths 7th of 29 to Eastlake. Towards the end of that month he was disappointing in a Sandown Park novices’ handicap chase when 12 lengths 9th of 11 to Junction Fourteen. He returned to action and looked stronger and improved when beating Royal Vacation by 8 lengths at Fontwell Park in October. However, he was a little disappointing in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham, finishing 19 lengths 8th of 17 behind Taquin Du Seuil. In early December he headed to Aintree and the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, putting up a super round of jumping to beat Seefood by 5 lengths.

Solar Impulse beats Dandridge (right) with Rock The World and Savello close up in the Grand Annual Chase Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Solar Impulse beats Dandridge (right) in the Grand Annual Chase
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

 

Solar Impulse was a useful novice chaser but struggled for much of the last campaign and has now moved yards. The former Paul Nicholls trained 7 year finished last of 3 to Doctor Phoenix at Haydock Park in November 2015 and the following month pulled up at Exeter and was not seen out again until landing the Grade 3 Grand Annual Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, beating Dandridge by 3 ¾ lengths. He then ran at Ayr in mid-April, in another competitive handicap chase, coming home 7 ¾ lengths third of 7 to De Faoithesdream. He rounded off his campaign by finishing 24 lengths fifth of 6 to the mighty Sprinter Sacre in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown Park in late April. Solar Impulse was then sold and is now in the care of Christopher Kellett. He made a lack lustre start for his new connections when finishing 22 lengths last of 9 behind Sire De Grugy in an Ascot handicap chase last month. He was similarly out of sorts in the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham in early December, finishing 43 lengths 9th of 16 to Frodon.

Thomas Brown has bits and pieces of decent novice chase form but unseated his rider last time out. The Harry Fry trained 8 year old made a sparkling debut over fences at Ascot in November, beating Bon Chic by 9 lengths. He returned there just before Christmas for a Grade 2 contest and disappointed somewhat, finishing 6 lengths second of 6 to Le Mercurey, although Amore Alato’s departure was the only reason he didn’t finish a well beaten third. He impressed at Doncaster though, beating Vintage Vinnie by 10 lengths in late January, but a month later failed to travel, made a series of blunders and eventually unseated his rider in the BetBright Handicap Chase at Kempton Park. In March he was well held in a valuable novices’ handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing 18 ½ lengths 7th of 20 behind Ballyalton. In early April he ran better in a competitive handicap chase at Aintree on Grand National day, coming home 25 lengths fourth of 14 behind Maggio. Thomas Brown made a winning seasonal bow when beating On Tour by a length back at Aintree in early November. A month later he contested the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham, but failed to really get competitive, coming home 29 lengths 8th of 16 to Frodon.

Thomas Crapper was a very useful hurdler and finished second to Don Poli at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, but has proved rather frustrating over fences. The Robin Dickin trained 9 year old has won just once from 15 starts over the bigger obstacles, beating Fox Appeal by 1 ¾ lengths at Newbury in early April. However after running 6 ½ lengths fourth of 11 to Junction Fourteen in a valuable novices’ handicap chase at Sandown Park in late April, he ran poorly on his next two starts. He returned to action in a Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Chepstow in early October, but was again well beaten behind Ballyoptic. Towards the end of that month he ran in a novices’ handicap chase at Ascot, finishing 32 lengths fourth of 5 to Master Dee. He put up his best run for a long while in the Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham, in mid-November, finishing 15 lengths 6th of 17 to Taquin Du Seuil.

Foxtail Hill failed to make his mark in two chases last season, but was returning from almost a year off when falling at Perth in September. The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained 7 year old got his act together in October when landing a Worcester handicap chase by 9 lengths from Kitchapoly and was not disgraced when coming home 6 ¼ lengths third of9 to Smoking Jacket in a novices’ handicap chase at Stratford in late October. In mid-December he headed to Haydock Park for a handicap chase and finished 9 ¼ lengths fifth of 14 to Gino Trail. He will need a personal best here.

 

 

The Grade 2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle over two miles, four furlongs and 56 yards, remembers the brilliant grey who won the Bula Hurdle on three occasions in the 1990s. This is a race with a real heritage, having been won by the likes of Morley Street, Granville Again, Lady Rebecca, Lough Derg, Mighty Man, Black Jack Ketchum, Oscar Whiskey, More Of That and Rock On Ruby.

Camping Ground storms clear in the Relkeel Hurdle Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Camping Ground storms clear in the 2016 Relkeel Hurdle
Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Camping Ground unseated his rider in last season’s Peterborough Chase and subsequently reverted to hurdling, showing fine form. The Robert Walford trained 7 year old won the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, that served notice of his true ability. He reverted to hurdles and took apart a field containing Grade 1 winning hurdlers Cole Harden, Bobs Worth and Whisper, as well as Top Notch, over just over 2 ½ miles. Eventually Camping Ground beat Lil Rockerfeller by 11 lengths in heavy ground, although he failed to replicate that effort a month later at the same venue in the Cleeve Hurdle, finishing 26 lengths fifth of 7 to Thistlecrack. He then contested the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, but was firmly put in his place as he finished 23 lengths 9th of 12 to Annie Power. He was a tailed off fifth of 6 to the mare in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle the following month. Camping Ground returned to action in a Kempton Park match race in early November, finishing 8 lengths behind Josses Hill. He then ran in a graduation chase at Newbury in mid-December, but fell when still in contention. He reverts to hurdling here and bids for back to back victories in this race.

Lil Rockerfeller Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Lil Rockerfeller
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Lil Rockerfeller took huge leaps forward last term, and the decision was taken to supplement this game little horse for the Champion Hurdle. The Neil King trained 6 year old ran 2 ¼ lengths third of 8 to Devilment on his return at Cheltenham in October and was far from disgraced the following month when 2 lengths third of 7 to Bivouac at Huntingdon. He showed plenty of tenacity in early December to land a Sandown Park handicap hurdle, beating his old rival Devilment by 2 lengths. On New Year’s Day he stepped up to Grade 2 level for the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham, running well to finish 11 lengths second of 8 to Camping Ground. Later that month his consistency again shone through when he ran 3 ½ lengths third of 17 to Rock The Kasbah in a competitive Ascot handicap hurdle. Towards the end of February Lil Rockerfeller gained a well-earned big race win as he ran away with the Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell Park, beating Ubak and a decent field by an impressive 9 lengths. He then ran in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, finishing 20 lengths 7th of 12 to Annie Power. He returned to action over three miles in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby in late October, running a solid race to finish 3 ¼ lengths third of 6 to Silsol. He ran a game race at Ascot in November in the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle. He was the first to come under pressure but battled on gamely to finish ¾ of a length second of 5 to Yanworth. He returned to Ascot in mid-December for the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, emerging from the fog to finish a highly-commendable 4 ½ lengths second of 11 to Unowhatimeanharry.

Old Guard won the Bula Hurdle  Image reproduced with the kind permission of Eric Belshaw

Old Guard won the Bula Hurdle last season
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Eric Belshaw

Old Guard was one of the big improvers over hurdles last season and has shown a real liking for Cheltenham. The Paul Nicholls trained 6 year old won was a useful juvenile hurdler last term but finished 25 lengths 9th in the Triumph Hurdle behind Peace And Co, Top Notch and Hargam. However, he seemed to blossom during the summer and returned to action with a Cheltenham win in October, defeating Are They Your Own by 6 lengths in a conditional jockey handicap hurdle. But it was his next start, when he landed the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle by 2 lengths from Superb Story that had Nicholls suggesting that he could even make up into a Champion Hurdle contender. He continued his development with a third victory at Cheltenham in as many months, when stepping up in class and winning the Grade 2 Bula Hurdle in December, beating Sempre Medici by a length. However, he was well beaten when 12 ½ lengths fourth of 5 to Faugheen in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park. That run arguably exposed Old Guard’s limits but came after a busy autumn. He suffered a late setback which ruled him out of the Champion Hurdle and returned over fences this autumn. His first start was short-lived as he made a mistake early on at Newton Abbot and was promptly pulled up in early October. Just eleven days later he landed a beginners chase at Exeter, but was far from fluent and scraped home by a neck from Imperial Presence. He returned to hurdling at Haydock Park in late November, but in heavy ground failed to pick up finishing 6 ½ lengths last of 4 behind Ch’Tibello. The following month he ran in the Grade 2 Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham, finishing 15 ½ lengths third of 6. He now steps up in trip.

Having beaten the smart King’s Socks in his only start in his native France, Adrien Du Pont proved a really smart juvenile hurdler for Paul Nicholls last term. The 5 year old beat the smart Sceau Royale on his UK debut at Chepstow in October 2015, but was then 1 ¾ lengths second to the same horse at Cheltenham that December. Heavy January ground proved no problem as he won the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle by 2 ¾ lengths from Chic Name, back at Chepstow, but he was not seen out for three months. When he did return, he was as good as ever, showing plenty of class to land a valuable Ascot handicap hurdle in early April, beating Oceane by 6 lengths. He was not seen out again until October, when good ground did not see him at his best, as he trailed his old rival Sceau Royale by 15 ½ lengths when fourth of 6 in a Cheltenham four year old contest. In mid-November he returned to France and put up a terrific performance in the Grade 1 Prix Renaud du Vivier at Auteuil, finishing 1 ¾ lengths third of 9 to Capivari. He now steps up in distance.

Agrapart winning the 2016 Betfair Hurdle Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Agrapart winning the 2016 Betfair Hurdle
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Agrapart was a winner on the flat in France and improved significantly over hurdles, after joining Nick Williams. The 6 year old was a well beaten fifth of 9 to Flying Angel at Worcester in mid-October, but ran well the following month when 6 lengths second of 7 to Ma Du Fou at Ffos Las, He got off the mark in early December when he beat Braavos by an emphatic 20 lengths at Aintree. A month later he took a huge step up in class for the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park, running with great credit to finish 10 ½ lengths third of 5 to Yorkhill. However, Agrapart’s big moment came in mid-February as he landed the valuable Betfair Hurdle by 11 lengths from Starchitect. He missed Cheltenham and instead headed to Aintree in early April, for the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle, finishing a disappointing 10 ½ lengths 6th of 11 behind Buveur D’Air. He was well beaten on his return in a Grade 3 hurdle race at Auteuil in early October, but ran much better there in late November to finish 9 ¼ lengths fourth of 11 behind Blue Dragon in a Grade 2 contest.

Leoncavallo Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Leoncavallo
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Leoncavallo proved a useful juvenile hurdler last season, winning five consecutive races in 2015 before unseating his rider at Cheltenham last December. He finished a respectable 14 ½ lengths fifth of 15 to Ivanovich Gorbatoc in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenam in March and ran well on the flat twice, including a victory at Lingfield Park in July. He was part of the Bloomfield sales and is now trained by Ben Pauling. He returned to hurdles at Cheltenham in late October and again ran well to finish 11 lengths second of 6 to Sceau Royal. The 5 year old was back at Cheltenham the following month, coming home 20 lengths 7th of 16 to North Hill Harvey in the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. However, at Ascot in early December, he was pulled up in another handicap hurdle and he faces a tough task in this company.

Having shown promise in his native France, Protek Des Flos made an instant impact in England, when landing a Grade 2 juvenile hurdle race at Cheltenham in January by 1 ¼ lengths from Clan Des Obeaux. The Nicky Henderson trained 5 year old quickly followed-up by a 4 ½ lengths victory over Starving Marvin at Sandown Park in mid-February, and the following month returned to France and ran well in a valuable hurdles race at Auteuil, coming home ½ a length second of 7 to Saint Goustan Blue. He made his chasing debut on his return at Newbury in late November, contesting the Grade 2 Berkshire Novices’ Chase, but coming home a tailed off fourth of 5 behind the impressive Clan Des Obeaux. He now reverts to hurdling.

Cole Harden beats Saphir Du Rheu in the World Hurdle Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Cole Harden beats Saphir Du Rheu in the 2015 World Hurdle
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Cole Harden has finished third in the last two renewals of this race, but in between he did land the 2015 Grade 1 World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. The Warren Greatrex trained 8 year old finished 20 lengths third to Camping Ground in this race a year ago and faded in the World Hurdle last March, finishing 31 lengths fourth of 12 to Thistlecrack, in defence of his crown. He returned to action in a Wetherby novice chase in early December, but was a little disappointing, finishing 7 lengths second of 7 to Its’afreebee. He now reverts to hurdles and bizarrely for a former Champion, the conditions of this race are very favourable.

L'Ami Serge Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

L’Ami Serge
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

L’Ami Serge was a smart novice hurdler who progressed into a very useful novice chaser last term, although he came up just short at Grade 1 level. The Nicky Henderson trained 7 year old kicked off his campaign with a splash and a win at Plumpton in early January, in desperate conditions that saw later races abandoned. Just under two weeks later he was out again, heading to Wetherby and beating the useful mare Run Ructions Run by 6 lengths. L’Ami Serge then headed to Warwick for the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase in mid-February – and proved a bitter disappointment as he failed to quicken and finished 11 lengths second of 3 behind Violet Dancer, with his trainer admitting to scratching his head for an explanation for his run afterwards. He ran a much better race in the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, leading in the home straight and coming home an excellent 4 lengths third of 9 to Black Hercules. In early April he headed to Aintree for the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase, finishing 8 lengths second of 8 to the ill-fated Arzal. He returned to action in a three-horse graduation chase at Exeter in mid-December, but did not jump straight and was soundly beaten by the race-fit Le Prezien, finishing 2 ¾ lengths second. He reverts to hurdling here.