The 2016/17 National Hunt season provided plenty of great moments, including the popular Cue Card (who begins his season tomorrow at Wetherby) winning the Betfair Ascot Chase and Unowhatimeanharry winning the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Christmas, with Ascot legend Reve De Sivola sixth behind.
Prize money this season is over £2.1 million, a record for our winter programme.
Tomorrow’s feature race is the £100,000 Sodexo Gold Cup over three miles. It is extremely pleasing to see 18 horses declared - big fields for high prize money are always welcome of course and handicaps with over 16 runners offer each-way betting for four places, which is very important. Fields are up generally tomorrow, with 85 declared compared to 67 last year.
The race features Antony, who won last year’s renewal, and Fourth Act, who was fourth behind him. It’s wide open as you’d expect though and as usual, Nigel Twiston-Davies has started the season with a bang and his Ballycross could prove popular after his recent third at Warwick.
The William Hill Handicap Hurdle is another competitive betting race, with Air Force One, a winner here in February, carrying top weight. Nicky Henderson, another who habitually starts the season well and has a particularly good record at Ascot, runs two, with Jenkins possibly the most interesting.
The big race of the day is the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, a Grade Two event over three miles and a key trial for the upcoming Grade Ones over that trip; the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.
As previously mentioned, Cue Card lines up there in what looks a vintage renewal including 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Coneygree and Grand National fourth, Blaklion. The race is interleaved into tomorrow’s Ascot racecard and will be shown on all the big screens.
Finally, in the evening, Royal Ascot winners Lady Aurelia, Ribchester and Highland Reel are in action at the Breeders’ Cup in California, in the Turf Sprint, Mile and Turf respectively. This could well be the last time we see Ribchester and Highland Reel in action before going to stud, but Lady Aurelia will hopefully be back at Ascot in June to defend her King’s Stand Stakes crown.
Another champion bowing out tomorrow is the world’s highest rated horse, Arrogate, trained by the great Bob Baffert. He is bidding for back to back Breeders’ Cup Classics (the top race in the world for dirt horses of all ages), but faces a vintage field, including Gun Runner and Collected (also Baffert-trained), who finished in front of a below par Arrogate, when they met in the Pacific Classic over the course and distance of Del Mar’s 10f track in August. 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill makes his dirt debut in the race, following his recent third in the QEII on Champions Day, and although he’ll be a big price, he could well be competitive if taking to the surface.