Summer is coming to an end, the 30 degree heat and the light nights have sharply vanished. Autumn, amongst National Hunt fans is when we really begin to get excited for what may prosper over the coming nine months. The stars of the previous season are gradually filtering back into their yards and being geared up for another season of huge optimism.
The annual “Jumps Season Opener” meeting at Chepstow is where it truly kicks off and the racing jumps into full flow, a real taster for what is to come. Fast forward two weeks and we have the first meeting at HQ with the Showcase, which a great starting point for horses with aspirations of chasing success back there the following March.
We’re now really growing into the season now, a lot of the “good” horses have made or are certainly pencilled in to make their reappearances.
Moving into November we have the opening graded chase of the season, in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby. This is a typical starting point for horses with Gold Cup aspirations and a first look at how second season chasers fair against their elder statesmen. Also, that same weekend we have our first Grade 1 across in the Emerald Isle in the form of the JN Wine Champion Chase at Down Royal, in short form, the Irish version of the Charlie Hall where you’ll find horses with Gold Cup targets and the second season novices clashing.
Up, running and rolling, with the ground slowly deteriorating into a true winter bog, we’re swiftly onto the second Cheltenham meeting with the three day Bet Victor Gold Cup weekend, where some horses may even be having their second runs, as races at this meeting tend to be early season targets for many, in particularly, the feature race; the Bet Victor Gold Cup. Last seasons runner up; the admirable Frodon went on the bag Grade 1 honours in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Onto the back end of November and we have the first Grade 1 of the season on this side of the Irish Sea, with the Betfair Chase at Haydock. A real war of attrition which takes no prisoners, only a horse with true stamina laden capabilities wins a Betfair Chase. Kauto Star(4) and Silviniaco Conti(2) both came back to regain their crowns in seasons past and Haydock specialist Bristol de Mai added to his 57 length victory in 2017 with a gutsy follow up in last seasons edition.
Hennessey Gold Cup or Ladbrokes Gold Cup, whichever you wish to adhere by comes next, on the first weekend in December at Newbury. One of the most prestigious staying chases of the season. Many will remember Denman’s demolition job in 2009 off a sky high rating of 174. Last season saw Willie Mullins scoop the pot with Total Recall, out battling the ever so popular Whisper by a neck at the finish. The race is favoured by trainers with a second season chaser hoping to compete in Grade 1 company later on in the season.
Outside of the Cheltenham Festival, the Tingle Creek is by far my favourite race. This year it takes place on the eighth of December. This race has been won by some true heroes of the sport; Moscow Flyer, Kauto Star, Masterminded, Sizing Europe Sprinter Sacre, the list goes on. The Tingle Creek is a real test of jumping and speed. Horses with Queen Mother Champion Chase aspirations have this earmarked as their mid-season race. 2017 saw scintillating grey; Politologue reign victorious for Paul Nicholls and now, new stable jockey; Harry Cobden. After outwitting Fox Norton in a tight finish up the Esher hill. 2018 saw two stalwarts of the National Hunt game go head to head in atrocious conditions with Altior pulling away from Un de Sceaux after the last fence.
Before we know it, its Boxing Day and half the campaign is complete without blinking an eye. The King George meeting for some, is the highlight of Christmas with a whole host of Grade 1 action. Kauto Star Novices Chase, Christmas Hurdle, Wayward Lad Novice Chase and obviously the King George itself all take place over the course of the two day meeting. 2018 saw a battle up the home straight between youth and old, with Clan des Obeaux comfortably coming away from 2016 winner Thistlecrack over the final fence. On top of all that, we have the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, again packed full of Grade 1 contests where in 2018 we saw current Champion Hurdle favourite; Klassical Dream for the first time on Irish soil.
There we have it, the opening half of the season complete. All your clues to the Cheltenham Festival will have surely had at least an opening run of their season but what will be their spring target? The Tingle Creek and the King George trophies will have 2019 winners etched on their side, will they also go onto Champion Chase and Gold Cup glory respectively? We all await.