Today’s action on the track on Day Two of the Prince's Countryside Fund Racing Weekend & Christmas Shopping Fair features the £100,000 Grade Two Coral Hurdle Race over two miles and three and a half furlongs.
This race has been won by some true greats of the turf in recent years, including Champion Hurdle winners Annie Power (2013), Faugheen (2014) and Rock On Ruby (2015). This illustrates the race’s validity as a trial for the blue riband of hurdling but, equally, being run over an intermediate trip, it can also lead to success at the highest level over further, as was the case with last year’s winner, Yanworth, who went on to win the Grade One Stayers’ Liverpool Hurdle over three miles at the Grand National Meeting.
Although there are only five runners in this year’s renewal, which is perfectly normal for races of this nature at this time of year, there is no shortage of quality.
Favourite for the race is the Phillip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil, who is unbeaten over hurdles including in the Grade One Triumph Hurdle at the Festival and it’s equivalent at Aintree. Those races are over two miles and the Champion Hurdle looks his likeliest Festival target at this stage.
Principal amongst the opposition is L’Ami Serge, a winner in Grade One company in France when last seen in June. That was over three miles so you would imagine the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival may be his long term target, which will certainly be the case for Lil Rockefeller, who had seconds in our Long Walk Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle itself last season.
Today’s main supporting race is the Grade Two Christy 1965 Steeple Chase over two miles and five furlongs, which commemorates the year when jumps racing began at Ascot following the closure of former local neighbour, Hurst Park.
Like the Coral Hurdle, its winners have often featured on the Cheltenham Festival roll of honour recently, including Master Minded (2010, 2011), Al Ferof (2013, 2014) and Vautour (2015).
This year’s race is wide open and has a bigger field than is often the case, headed by Smad Chase, the 2015 Hennessy winner, who made a successful return to action in the recent Grade Two Old Roan Chase at Aintree.
Flying Angel had Top Notch behind him when winning a Grade One novices’ event at Aintree in the Spring and they represent top class second season form, against the more experienced runners in what will be a fascinating race.
Today’s is far from a two horse card, however, and of particular interest is the return to action of 2014 Champion Chaser, Sire De Grugy, in the Shawbrook Handicap Chase at 3.15pm. He successfully carried top weight to victory in this race last year and will be fancied for a repeat this afternoon.
The Queen has a runner in the opener - Take To Heart - who was very much going the right way last season, winning his last two races.
The big race at Haydock is the Grade One Betfair Chase, which is a trial for the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day and features the ever-popular Cue Card. The race will be shown on the big screens and will be well worth watching.
Tickets for Saturday of thePrince's Countryside Fund Racing Weekend & Christmas Shopping Fair are available to purchse on the gate,starting at £28 for adults. Under 18s tickets are free.