Five Lessons Learned from the Festive Horse Racing Calendar

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Christmas is a time for giving, and the festive period certainly gave in spades as far as top-class National Hunt racing is concerned.

A pair of meetings at Kempton Park and Leopardstown were the particular standouts, with the highly-fancied Thistlecrack’s pulsating victory over seasoned campaigner Cue Card the obvious highlight.

Here are five lessons that punters have learned this Yuletide, and how these can be taken advantage of in the coming months.

1. Thistlecrack Poised for Gold Cup Heroics

The undoubted highlight of the festive schedule was the King George VI Chase from Kempton Park on Boxing Day, which pitted proven champion Cue Card against talented novice Thistlecrack.


These two quality performances from the Colin Tizzard yard put on an outstanding showcase of jumping as they went toe-to-toe (or hoof-to-hoof if you prefer) over three miles on the good going of Kempton.

The pair had enjoyed a tussle in the betting markets prior to the off, with Thistlecrack going off as the outright favourite after sneaking ahead of the more experienced Cue Card; a surprise, but a measure of the confidence in the novice.

And after a ding-dong battle out on the course, it was Thistlecrack that prevailed by three lengths in a flawless display of jumping.

So, point proven, and now attention turns to Cheltenham in March and where the eight-year-old will be positioned. Most likely is the Gold Cup, a longer stretch that would surely suit him, where he would likely be challenged by the likes of Welsh Grand National winner Native River, he outstanding former Gold Cup champion Coneygree and Cue Card once again. The bookmakers have installed Thistlecrack as a long-range 5/4 favourite.

He sailed home in his prior Cheltenham Festival appearance in the Ryanair World Hurdle, and with three wins on the course in 2016 alone few would be backing against Thistlecrack repeating the trick in 2017.

2. Tizzard the Wizard for Trainers’ Championship glory?

The Kempton Park meeting was an outstanding outing for trainer Colin Tizzard, who alongside his Thistlecrack-Cue Card 1-2 also saw the talented young powerhouse Royal Vacation triumph in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices Chase.

The second half of the National Hunt season is where business really picks up, and while the likes of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson head the Trainers’ Championship stakes there is still plenty of time for Tizzard to close the gap with a series of victories.

As well as the aforementioned trio, Tizzard has a litany of other potential big race champions in his yard including Native River, who will surely battle it out for Grand National and Gold Cup glory, Fox Norton (already a winner at Cheltenham this year) and the occasionally brilliant Gentleman Jon.

There is lots of potential for Tizzard leading up to Cheltenham, and plenty of lucrative prizes surely await him in 2017.

3. Vroum Vroum Mag for Double Cheltenham Glory?

After the excitement of the Kempton Park meeting on December 26 came a run-out at Leopardstown two days later, of which the standout was undoubtedly the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle.


There the unstoppable Vroum Vroum Mag held off the challenge of another Willie Mullins steed, Clondaw Warrior, to take the spoils and add to an already impressive CV.

The seven-year-old has bagged eleven wins in twelve starts, including the OLBG Mares Hurdle and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, and the momentum is building for this Ricci owned starlet.

A likely assault on the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham will follow in 2017; a renewal that she is currently priced at 9/4 for. That appears to be an excellent investment.

4. Yan-worth following in lead-up to the Cheltenham Festival

Attracting plenty of interest from the betting community is Yanworth, who added to his own growing reputation with victory in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day.

The six-year-old is an intriguing proposition given that, in such a fledgling career to date, he has already gone close in two trips to the Cheltenham Festival. A fourth on debut in the Weathersby’s Champion Bumper of 2015 doesn’t tell the whole story of a narrow three-length margin of defeat, and the following year he followed that up with a second place in the Novices’ Hurdle, where he finished a mere length behind Yorkhill.

The signs are good then with three victories and a second in 2016 – what will the new year bring for this talented speedster?

5. Poker School has Cheltenham in his sights

The festive period is a great time for spotting up-and-coming talents, and one that confirmed his growing reputation was Poker School.

A fairly sketchy career record has been bolstered by three wins in four starts, including a pair in the space of nine days in December! That trio came at SPs of 4/1, 8/1 and 7/2, so this is a horse capable of upsetting the bookmakers.

First was a five-length ease home in the BGC Partners Handicap Chase at Aintree, which featured a rousing rally from sixth place with two to jump. And then barely a week later he defied an 8lb rise in weight to triumph in the Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Jockey Richard Johnson, who knows a decent horse when he sees one, was effusive in his praise. “The ditch on the far side he really jumped up well and all of a sudden he came to life. They went a good gallop.

“I’m sure that type of race [the Novice Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival] would suit him.”

When a man with as stellar a career as Johnson is handing out betting tips, it pays to get involved!