The nights are growing longer, the clocks are about to go back, scarves are being dusted off and winter is coming. That is great news for fans of jumps racing, as it means the National Hunt season is about to begin in earnest. Months of exciting action lie ahead. The first major meeting of the season takes place at Cheltenham in November and then the big events keep on coming until the Jump Finale takes place at Sandown on April 25, 2020. These are the biggest meetings to look out for:
Cheltenham November Meeting
Racing fans can look forward to a number of big races during three days of top-notch action at the home of National Hunt racing in November. It begins with Countryside Day on Friday, 15 November, a day that offers celebration of the rural landscape alongside the racing. That is followed by Gold Cup Day and then the meeting concludes on Sunday, 17 November, a family event featuring face painting, Minions, live shows and balloons for the little ones.
The Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup, run over 2 miles 4 furlongs and 44 yards, is the biggest event of the meeting, replete with a prize purse of £160,000. There are five Grade II contests – Hyde Novices’ Hurdle, Prestbury Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle, November Novices’ Chase and Sharp Novices’ Hurdle – and they typically unearth the superstars of the future. Alongside the Gold Cup, there are another two Grade 3 races: The Handicap Chase and the Greatwood Hurdle.
This meeting is a real autumnal treat and it will attract many of the best trainers, jockeys and runners in the National Hunt Scene. Last year Jamie Moore rode the Gary Moore-trained Baron Alco to a thrilling two-length victory over the highly-rated Frodon in the Gold Cup. Josies Orders seized the Glenfarclas Cross Country race to secure a fourth win at Cheltenham, while local trainer Tom George was celebrating after Bun Doran won the Handicap Chase. Sceau Royal landed the Grade 2 Schloer Chase, and he went on to place in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March.
Fans can expect to see many returning heroes and a number of exciting, up-and-coming horses at this year’s November Meeting. Course officials say the track is now in better shape than it has ever been following a significant investment on drainage. “We have added drainage to the pull up section of the racecourse, on both the old and the new courses,” said Ian Renton, regional director at The Jockey Club. All other areas of those courses already have drainage as part of our turf management plans and after a few rather wet Festivals we wanted to add drainage to this part of the course, to keep the turf of the highest standard.”
The Christmas Festival at Kempton Park is the highlight of the festive calendar for racing fans. The main event is the iconic King George VI Chase, which takes place on Boxing Day every year. It is the second leg of the Triple Crown, sandwiched between the Betfair Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Clan Des Obeaux earned trainer Paul Nicholls a 10th victory in the race last year when he finished ahead of veteran chaser Thistlecrack and Gold Cup winner Native River. It is one of the most prestigious races of the year, with a prize pool of £250,000, and it always attracts a world-class field of runners.
Nicky Henderson has decided to send legendary horse Altior – winner of the Champion Chase for the past two years – down the King George route. That is an extremely exciting prospect for race fans, and it will be fascinating to see how he handles the step up in trip. It puts Altior on a collision course with Cyrname, who shot to prominence with a couple of runaway wins at Ascot early in the year, while Clan Des Obeaux is also expected to return for another crack at glory. Altior is on a long unbeaten streak and he is the ante post favourite in the horse racing betting, but it looks set to be an extremely competitive race.
The King George is not the only Grade 1 race taking place at the Christmas Festival. Fans can also look forward to the Christmas Hurdle over 2 miles and the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase over 3 miles. They both rank among the most prestigious races of the mid-season programme, and they contribute to a fantastic meeting over the Christmas period.
The March Festival at Cheltenham is always the highlight of the National Hunt season. It features all the most prestigious races – the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle – along with many more iconic Grade 1 contests such as the Ryanair Chase and the Arkle.
There are 14 Grade 1 races in total at the Cheltenham Festival, and that is a huge amount when you consider there are only 40 in the entire National Hunt season. The Supreme Novices; Chase, the Arkle, the Mares’ Hurdle, the Novices’ Hurdle, RSA Chase, Champion Bumper, Novices’ Chase, Triumph Hurdle and Spa Novices Hurdle are all major events, but the Gold Cup, Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle are the centrepiece events during the four days of the meeting.
The Gold Cup is the most prestigious of all National Hunt events and it is frequently dubbed the blue riband of jumps racing. Arkle, Best Mate, Golden Miller, Kauto Star, Denman and Mill House are among the legends that have won the event. The prize money keeps spiralling and it reached £625,000 in 2019. Willie Mullins scored a first ever Gold Cup victory last year when Al Boum Photo, a 12/1 shot, secured a surprise victory.
The Irish always have a tremendous presence at the event, and a fascinating side market emerges in trying to predict the winner of the Prestbury Cup. It is awarded to the nation that secures the most winners over the course of the four days, and it finished in a draw between Britain and Ireland last year, ending Ireland’s winning streak. The best in the business head to Prestbury Park for the meeting and the battle to be named leading trainer and leading jockey is ferocious and fascinating.
Grand National Festival
The Grand National is the richest race in Britain and it transcends horse racing to stand as a key event in the sporting calendar, alongside major events such as Wimbledon and the FA Cup final. People that seldom bet throughout the year shuffle into betting shops or venture online to get in on the action, and the nation comes to a standstill as the bravest stayers in the business slog it out over 4 miles and 514 yards, clearing notorious fences like The Chair, Becher’s Brook and Canal Turn.
It is a truly epic event and victory can represent the pinnacle of many a career. Gordon Elliot’s superstar Tiger Roll will aim to win it for the third time in a row when the drama unfolds on April 4, 2020. It will be intriguing to see if he can pull it off.
The Grand National Festival takes place at Aintree and it features 11 Grade 1 races: The Manifesto Novices’ Chase, the Four-Year-Old Novices’ Chase, the Betway Bowl, Aintree Hurdle, Top Novices’ Chase, Mildmay Novices’ Chase, Melling Chase, Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, Maghull Novices Chase and the Liverpool Hurdle. It is the last major event before the Jump Finale wraps things up at Sandown.