The opening race of the final day of the festival and my favourite race of the entire week. This races is for 4 year olds only and is ran over 2m 1 furlongs. This Grade 1 see’s eight flights of hurdles to be taken by the juveniles.
A hotly contested race which usually brings a large field, combine this with a very fast paced race and you get what can only be described as brilliant. The novices will be tested right from the off, with only the slickest jumpers and well rounded individuals able to succeed. Every single moment is crucial.
The market usually tends to get this race right, with many of the favourites hitting the frame at the very least. Nicky Henderson boasts an impressive strike rate in this race with 50% of his runners finishing in the places or better. Which brings me onto my next point, I believe this is the race in which Apples Shakira will end up in. Her turn of foot was deadly at Cheltenham and she was able to breeze out into the lead and there was no stopping her. Currently best priced at 9/2, having been 25/1 before that day at Cheltenham. If she does take up her place in this race, given the favourites record, it may well be that the 9/2 itself has value in it, although it might be best served to wait until NRNB as she has multiple targets.
Next in the betting we have Espoir Dallen 10/1, another owned by J P McManus boasting an unbeaten record as of writing. Winning all his three races on British soil since joining Gavin Cromwell. It will be interesting to see where they plot the gelding throughout this season.
A Grade 1 hurdle for 4 year olds and upwards, ran on the new course over 3 miles. This race has only had three winning favourites since its creation, giving the impression that there is value to be found before the off. With SP’s ranging from 11/8 all the way out to the 33/1 of Noel Meade’s winner Very Wood, it pays to look beyond that market principles.
Despite 25 attempts Willie Mullins has only ever won this race once! This goes to show just how competitive it is. On The Blind Side currently is the favourite who would have been my choice for this race prior to the run at Sandown during Tingle Creek meeting, but I’d be more inclined to think they’ll go for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle now. Other interesting runners in a wide open market include Getabird and Fabulous Saga, both at 20/1.
The pinnacle of national hunt racing, the Blue Riband of jumps racing, however you would like to call it. The most anticipated steeplechase of the season. Ran over 3 miles 2 ½ furlongs, with 22 fences to be jumped on the way round, this highly valuable contest brings the elite chasers to the forefront of battle.
Without a doubt the most talked about race of the entire festival, and rightly so. With exceptional winners in the past such as Arkle, Denman, and Kauto Star, this race adds the victor's name to an almighty roll of honour.
Willie Mullins has never won this race, yes, you read that correctly. Despite all his efforts and successes in other races throughout the calendar, he is yet to land the prize. Surprisingly in 2016 Gordon Elliott won the race with his first ever runner in the line up Don Cossack!
If you’re a trend follower, then this race is for you. With many of the race trends looking rock solid. In the last 15 renewals every winner was aged 6-9 (bearing in mind Thistlecrack will be 10 this time round should he make it), each winner had also previously won a Grade 1. There are numerous other trends which i’ll not go into as they’re not for everyone.
Let’s start with the aforementioned Thistlecrack, the fan favourite has had to overcome an injury sustained last season and didn’t look anywhere near his best when running in the long distance hurdle at Newbury. He finished tailed off in that contest, weakening off the home turn after travelling well throughout. Race fitness may have been the issue, but until we see whether he runs any sort of race in the King George should he run, he may be best overlooked.
Sizing John 9/2 looks set for a return in the race and Jessie Harrington’s inmate should be a key player again this time round. He looked just as impressive as ever in the John Durkan at Punchestown, dispatching Djakadam (25/1 for the contest in March) with ease. The favouritism is justifiable and one that will definitely run his race.
Might Bite 7/1 is another that deservedly sits towards the top of the market at the current time. He has proved he can handle the undulations of Cheltenham at the festival (albeit only just!). On return this season at Sandown he breezed past the Paul Nicholls trained Frodon without being asked for pressure and was eased towards the line.
Bristol De Mai’s 12/1 performance in the mud at Haydock was nothing out of the ordinary for the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained grey gelding, other than the fact the race was won by 57 lengths, however it did fall apart a long way from home. He is somewhat of a Haydock specialist and goes extremely well on heavy ground. He was raised an almighty mark (173) for that vicory and it remains to be seen if he can transfer that form to good ground. The King George chase should tell us more.
Our Duke 16/1 has taken a drift in the market at the time of writing, after a poor run at Down Royal it was discovered after the race that last season's Irish National winner scoped abnormally. Further to this he has since undergone a back operation and will be out of action for some time. Harrington believes he will be fit and ready for the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February. One to keep an eye on.
Native River 14/1 looks set for a return to action in the new year, with the Tizzard yard looking to keep him a little fresher before the Gold Cup. There isn’t a definite plan on what races they’ll aim him at, but with Thistlecracks poor performance first time out this season reports are that they may give Native River an extra run. If he returns in the same form as his staying on third to Sizing John in last years gold cup, he looks sure to mount another bold challenge.
Disko 25/1 is an interesting one at a big price, he’s very consistent and always runs his race. He finished third in last season’s JLT Novice Chase in behind Yorkhill and Top Notch, before following this run with a good win in a Grade 1 at Punchestown beating coming home in front of some smart rivals thats day over 3m+. Definitely one to keep an eye on this season with this race, possible each way chance.