Sunday 1 January
The New Year gets underway with a competitive card of jumps racing at Cheltenham, which seems to attract ever stronger fields each year. The Betbright Dipper Novices’ Chase over 4200m is the highlight. The Grade Two event, run at Newcastle until 2005, has been won by smart sorts such as The Listener, My Way De Solzen and Oscar Whisky in recent years and was taken 12 months ago by Scottish raider Seeyouatmidnight. Paul Nicholls is considering running the exciting Clan des Obeaux in this year’s renewal.
The Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle, a Grade Two event over 4100m, and the Fairlawne Handicap Chase (Grade Three, 4200m) provide good supporting races for a card that always attracts a big crowd. More Of That won the Relkeel three seasons ago on his way to taking the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival less than three months later.
Saturday 7 January
Grade One action is on offer at Sandown Park with the 32Red Tolworth Hurdle, a 3300m event for novices, the feature event on a strong card. In recent times the race has been farmed by Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls, the two premier jumps trainers in Britain having won eight of the last 12 renewals, however Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins broke new ground when taking the race with Yorkhill last year, that horse going on to win the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on his very next start.
Sunday 8 January
The first Irish Grade contest of the year takes place at Naas in the shape of the Lawlors Hotel Novice Hurdle. Run over 4000m, it is another in a long list of Irish Graded novice hurdles that Willie Mullins has dominated, Bellshill providing him with a sixth win in the last 11 runnings in 2016.
Saturday 14 January
Warwick stages the valuable Betfred Classic Chase, a staying handicap run over 5800m. Paul Nicholls sent out Hawkes Point to win the first prize in 2015 – a race he also won with Eurotrek (2006) and Ladalko (2007). Twelve months ago, it was Russe Blanc who struck for Kerry Lee and Charlie Poste.
The feature event is ably supported by the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Grade Two, 4200m), a race won in recent years by both No Refuge and The New One on the way to Cheltenham Festival success.
In Ireland, the highlight is the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, a race run in honour of Jessica Harrington’s brilliant chaser since 2009. A Grade Two event over 3200m, it has been the preserve of Willie Mullins in recent times (six of the last eight winners) and although the winner of this race 12 months ago, Min, was only second at the Cheltenham Festival, the previous two runnings were both won by subsequent Cheltenham winners in Vautour and Douvan. Take serious note of whatever Mullins runs in this season’s renewal!
Saturday 21 January
Good cards feature in the north and south of England with Graded races aplenty at Haydock Park and Ascot. The stanjames.com Champion Hurdle Trial and the Peter Marsh Chase are the features at Haydock, but it is the Ascot card that really takes the eye. The Sodexo Clarence House Chase, a Grade One event over 3400m, is the main event and is likely to feature some of the very smartest two-mile steeplechasers around – Gary Moore has already earmarked the exciting Ar Mad for the contest.
Saturday 28 January
The month draws to an end with one of the premier meetings at Cheltenham outside of the Festival itself. The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial opens proceedings and the winner will be looking to emulate Peace And Co, successful here two years ago ago before going on to Triumph Hurdle glory.
The Betbright Trial Chase over 5100m is a significant pointer to the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup as well as being an important Grade Two event in its own right, while there are also two other Grade Two contests. Throw in a couple of competitive handicap chases and it really is a card to savour.
Highlights 12 months ago include the victory of Hennessy hero Smad Place over 2015 Grand National winner Many Clouds and a bloodless destruction job from champion staying hurdler Thistlecrack in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Sunday 29 January
In Ireland, Leopardstown hosts another cracking card with the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle the undoubted highlight. There was a new name on the trophy in 2016 following the retirement of the brilliant Hurricane Fly, who had won the race in the previous five seasons, but the winning trainer had a familiar theme with the Willie Mullins-trained Faugheen proving successful.
Faugheen was forced to miss the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham subsequently through injury, but could yet return to try and retain his crown.
There is also a Grade One chase for novices on the card – the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase – which for the last two years has been taken by subsequent Cheltenham Festival scorers Un De Sceaux and Douvan. Will there be a hat-trick this year?
Sunday 1 January 2017
- Cheltenham - Betbright Dipper Novices’ Chase
Saturday 14 January 2017
- Punchestown - Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle
Saturday 21 January 2017
- Haydock - Peter Marsh Chase
- stanjames.com Champion Hurdle Trial
Saturday 28 January 2017
- Cheltenham - Betbright Trial Chase
Sunday 29 January 2017
- Punchestown - BHP Irish Champion Hurdle