Racing returns to Ascot for the Christmas Racing Weekend and the high-class jumps action takes centre stage.
Friday is all about the novices – potentially top class horses learning their trade, whether that is over hurdles or fences.
The Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle – the Kennel Gate to give it its traditional name - sees horses with aspirations to run in the “Supreme” itself at the Cheltenham Festival take to the stage.
A high quality field of six line up, with all bar one having won on their last start. Amongst them is Mr One More, victorous here last month with Dr Des, who re-opposes, a neck second.
Three exciting novice chasers line up in the Mitie Noel Novices’ Chase over the intermediate trip of two miles, five and a half furlongs.
On the face of it, this is a numerically disappointing turnout but that is because the three that do line up all look genuine candidates to go to the top.
Finian’s Oscar competed at the highest level over hurdles last season and was favourite to win at Grade One level as a chaser last time out at Sandown, before a mistake effectively ruled him out of the race.
He had won nicely at Cheltenham before that but faces stiff opposition from Dolos, who slammed the high class Sternrubin here last month, and Benatar, unbeaten this season including at Ascot.
The Mitie Noel Novices’ Chase is often on the road map for horses that end up at the top as illustrated by last year’s winner, Politologue, who was fourth in the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival and earlier this month, won the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
Our final Grade One of the year is Saturday’s JLT Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle over three miles. The race this year honours three-time race winner, Reve De Sivola, who sadly lost his life at Kelso in March.
A competitive field of nine has been declared headed by last year’s winner, Unowhatimeanharry and ever-popular Lil Rockerfeller, who was second in 2016 and indeed second again at Grade One level in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival.
Lil Rockerfeller chalked up a much deserved reward for his consistency in last month’s Grade Two Coral Hurdle here, with the re-opposing L’Ami Serge in second, and the popular front-runner will lift the roof if he can add an elusive Grade One on Saturday.
The main betting event of the weekend is the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle, one of the most valuable of its type in Britain at £150,000. Other entries include the returning Coney Island, who could line up in the Sodexo Graduation Chase.
Owner J P McManus will still have an eye on the Cheltenham Gold Cup for him and he always likes to be well represented at this meeting.
Christmas in racing means Boxing Day, and for those in need of a diversion from family or TV repeats, the King George VI Chase at Kempton at 3.05pm on ITV1 looks like a top class renewal.
Might Bite, the champion, if somewhat enigmatic, novice of last year is favourite to defeat his more experienced rivals including recent Betfair Chase winner, Bristol De Mai, last year’s King George winner, Thistlecrack, elite two-mile chaser, Fox Norton, and Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up, Whisper.