Cheltenham is live on Sky Racing on New Year’s Day, with a quality seven-race card to get 2017 off to a flying start at the Home of Jump Racing.
The richest race of the day is the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase, which is staged over two miles and five furlongs. Last year’s renewal went to Cheltenham specialist Village Vic, trained by Philip Hobbs, who has twice been placed at Grade 3 level at Cheltenham this season in the BetVictor Gold Cup and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
Sixth in the BetVictor Gold Cup was the Robin Dickin-trained Thomas Crapper. The nine-year-old, a dual winner over hurdles at Cheltenham in 2013, was beaten 15 lengths and his trainer is looking forward to seeing his stable star line up again at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day after a breathing operation.
Dickin said: “He ran a good race when he was sixth in the BetVictor Gold Cup, when we fitted him with a tongue strap. That suggested he had a breathing problem and he has subsequently had his soft palate cauterized. He is back in work now and seems a million dollars. He worked hard this morning and we scoped him afterwards – he was 100 per cent clear. We are very happy with him and he will be heading to Cheltenham. I just hope there is nothing too high up in the weights as it is an open handicap and that we get a run. He goes on good ground and wouldn’t mind it a bit softer either.”
Elsewhere on the card the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle looks another strong renewal with last year’s first two home Camping Ground and Lil Rockerfeller among the early entries alongside The New One and Cole Harden.
Further Grade 2 action on New Year’s Day is provided by the BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase, which has attracted 13 entries including Kim Bailey’s Charbel, who was runner-up in the Grade 1 Racing Post Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park at the start of December. Paul Nicholls is well represented with Grand Sefton winner As De Mee and Clan Des Obeaux who readily took a Grade 2 novices’ chase at Newbury in November. Elsewhere Henry Daly’s talented mare Briery Belle is unbeaten in two appearances over fences while Nicky Henderson’s Whisper also catches the eye after winning over fences for the first time at this track last start
The Grade 3 BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase could see the second, third and fourth from Cheltenham’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup re-oppose with Aso, Village Vic and Quite By Chance all holding entries. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai could make his first appearance at Cheltenham since finishing second in the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase at The Festival in March, with dual Grade 2 winner Top Gamble and the 2014 Irish Grand National victor Shutthefrontdoor also among the 23 entries.
Racing gets underway with the Listed Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles while 36 contenders for the Watch Live Racing On BetBright.com Handicap Chase over an extended three and a quarter miles are headed by the Nick Williams-trained Aubusson, a Grade 1 runner-up over hurdles in France. There are 31 entries for the three-mile BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle which includes the 2014 Pertemps Network Final winner Fingal Bay.
The action concludes with the Listed EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open NH Flat Race, which has 23 entries headed by impressive Newbury scorer Cap Soleil.