December Highlights

Saturday 3 December


Sandown Park’s steeplechase course provides a thorough test of jumping, including the famous Railway fences, and the excitement of a top-class 3200m steeplechase run at an end-to-end gallop always provides a real spectacle at the Esher track.

The Betfair Tingle Creek Chase, a Grade One event, is one of the most important races of its type in the calendar and boasts an outstanding a roll of honour befitting a race run in honour of one of the all-time greats.

Sadly, the recent retirement of Sprinter Sacre through injury has robbed this year’s contest of its headline act, but the absence of Nicky Henderson’s ace has opened up the contest to some who might not otherwise have lined up.

Chief among those is the outstanding Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux, whose bold-jumping style and attacking nature look ideal for bowling around Sandown.

Fox Norton, an impressive recent winner at Cheltenham on his debut for Colin Tizzard, sets a decent standard among the home team, but Gary Moore will have high hopes for his pair of possible runners, Ar Mad and Sire de Grugy.

Sire De Grugy, already successful in the Tingle Creek both last year and in 2013, heads into the race on the back of one of his best-ever performances, the 10-year-old having defied top weight to win a valuable handicap at Ascot.

Moore has reported his 2014 Champion Chase hero to have taken the race well and can’t wait to run him and Ar Mad.

Ar Mad won the Grade One Racing Post Henry VIII Novices' Chase – sure to prove another thrilling highlight on this card – over the Tingle Creek course and distance last year, but has been absent since February with a stress fracture.

Making the race potentially even more memorable, Moore’s sons Jamie (Sire De Grugy) and Josh (Ar Mad) will ride the pair.

There is also a good meeting at Aintree in which the Betfred Becher Chase is the highlight. Run over 5200m, and over the National fences, it has seen a couple of previous winners go on to future Grand National glory – Amberleigh House and Silver Birch each winning both races (although not in the same season).

Recent renewals have been something of a battle of the old boys with Hello Bud (2010 and 2012) winning the race aged 12 and 14, and the 2014 renewal seeing the spritely 13-year-old Oscar Time land the spoils.

Local trainer Jimmy Moffatt caused a turn-up with Highland Lodge in the race 12 months ago and horse and trainer are out to show that run to have been no fluke by bidding to take the race again.


Saturday 3 December

Fairyhouse (Saturday 3rd - Sunday 4th)

The two-day Winter Festival at Fairyhouse takes centre stage in Ireland, Sunday’s card featuring no less than three Grade One events.

The main event is the Bar One Racing Hattons Grace Hurdle, famously won in recent years by Hurricane Fly, Jezki and in 2015 by the Willie Mullins-trained Arctic Fire. Mullins is likely to fire at least one of his big guns at the 4000m contest again this year with Faugheen and Annie Power both possible starters.

The Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle over 3200m usually throws down a serious marker for championship honours later in the season, while the Bar One Drinmore Novice Chase sets a stiff challenge over 15 fences for inexperienced fencers. Noel Meade is the most successful trainer in the race with four previous winners and it will be fascinating to see what he can rustle up for this year’s renewal.


Sunday 4 December


Huntingdon stage their big day of the season with the Grade Two Betfred Peterborough Chase, run over 4100m, the feature event. Although not quite as prestigious as it once was – the likes of One Man, Edredon Bleu (four times) and Best Mate were all successful around the turn of the century – it is still a good contest in its own right and is often targeted by the leading stables.


Friday 9 December

Cheltenham (Friday 9th - Saturday 10th)

It’s back to Cheltenham for the two-day International meeting where highlights include the International Hurdle, the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial.

The International Hurdle, a Grade Two event over 3,400 metres, was first established in 1963, and often brings together a high-class field of potential Champion Hurdle candidates.

The last horse to win both the International Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle in the same season was Rooster Booster in 2002-03.

Another popular event at the meeting is the £100,000 Grade Three Caspian Caviar Gold Cup over 4100m, a high-class handicap chase, in which last year’s winner Village Vic is set to bid for back-to-back victories.


Saturday 10 December


Doncaster stage a couple of Grade Two events, namely the bet365 Summit Juvenile Hurdle (3300m) and the bet365 December Novices’ Chase (4800m).

The former event was won two years ago by Peace And Co, who delivered a spectacular performance on his British debut before going on to cement his place as the season’s leading four-year-old hurdler, so expectations are sure to be high of this year’s winner.


Sunday 11 December


In Ireland, there is Graded-race action at Cork and Punchestown. The former venue stages the Grade 2 Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase (3200m).

There is Grade One action at Punchestown with the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase the highlight. Possible runners include Djakadam and Don Poli, the recent movement of horses out of the yard of champion trainer Willie Mullins potentially producing a clash between horses who might have been kept apart in seasons past.


Friday 16 December

Ascot (Friday 16th - Saturday 17th)

Grade One action for the staying hurdlers with the JLT Long Walk Hurdle (5000m) the highlight of Ascot’s two-day fixture. The Long Walk is a race that has thrown up multiple winners in recent times – Baracouda won four and Big Buck’s three – but there will be a new name on the roll of honour this year with Thistlecrack, successful here 12 months ago as part of his total domination of the staying hurdling division, having had his attentions switched to steeplechasing.

The £150,000 Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle over 3100m, known until recently as The Ladbroke, provides the main supporting action on the Saturday.

Friday’s card includes two Grade Two contests, including the Sky Bet Supreme Trial.


Monday 26 December

Kempton (Monday 26th – Tuesday 27th)

The two-day 32Red Winter Festival at Kempton is the highlight of the festive period for British racegoers with the King George VI Chase the showpiece event. A race steeped in racing folklore, due in no small part to multiple winners Desert Orchid and Kauto Star, this year’s renewal has the makings of a classic with a potential re-match between last year’s winner Cue Card and the returning former Gold Cup hero Coneygree on the cards after they finished first and second in Haydock’s Betfair Chase in November.

Also potentially in the reckoning is the Willie Mullins-trained Douvan, whose connections are seemingly considering a move up to this 4800m trip.

Kauto Star, who was a fixture at this meeting, winning a record five King Georges, is remembered in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. Two years ago Coneygree ran his rivals into the ground before going on to become the first novice to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for 41 years, while last year Lizzie Kelly became the first female jockey to win a Grade One over jumps when Tea For Two triumphed.

Faugheen became the seventh horse to win the race more than once when taking the 3200m Christmas Hurdle last year and could conceivably return for a bid at an unprecedented hat-trick, while the Alan King-trained Sceau Royal is likely to head the home contingent


Monday 26 December

Leopardstown (Monday 26th – Thursday 29th)

Four days of top-notch action to look forward to at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival with a host of Grade One races for novices, hurdlers and chasers alike. The Lexus Chase and the Ryanair Hurdle are the headline attractions but there really is something for everyone to enjoy.

Better known as St Stephen’s Day in Ireland, the card at Leopardstown on the 26th features the Grade One Racing Post Novices’ Chase. The 27th is highlighted by two more thrilling top-division races, the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase and the Paddy Power Future Champion Novice Hurdle. The Lexus Chase, always a key pointer as to the pecking order for the championship steeplechasing contests later in the season and a potential target for Coneygree should connections choose to sidestep Kempton, is the highlight on the 28th, while the Ryanair Hurdle on the 29th is sure to see comparisons between the winner and some of the other greats who have taken the spoils – Hurricane Fly and Istabraq both won the race four times.


Tuesday 27 December


It’s Coral Welsh Grand National day at Chepstow and the valuable marathon event (5900m) is always a well-contested affair. Usually run in very demanding conditions, last year’s race was delayed until January due to wet weather, but even when the contest was staged managed to produce a finish that saw the runners come home coated in mud.

Despite the race posing such a thorough test of stamina, though, it does feature some very classy winners on its roll of honour.

Among those set to bid and join them this year are last season’s National Hunt Chase winner Minella Rocco, who made a pleasing return to action at Cheltenham in November, and last year’s runner-up Firebird Flyer, the subsequent winner of the Midlands National and second on his return to action at Haydock on Betfair Chase day.