Cheltenham welcomes New Year with fine racing

Fergal O’Brien and John Quinn assess prospects


31st December, 2013 – Top horses and competitive handicaps are on the menu for the many thousands of racegoers attending Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture tomorrow (Wednesday, January 1, 2014).


Unbeaten star Irish hurdler Annie Power, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, renews rivalry with last season’s Stan James Champion Hurdle fourth Zarkandar in the £25,000 Dorman Engineering Hurdle (3.05pm) over an extended two and a half miles.


The six-year-old mare, seeking her ninth straight victory, had five lengths to spare over the Paul Nicholls-trained Zarkandar in the Grade Two Ascot Hurdle at Ascot on November 23.


This will be Annie Power’s first experience of Cheltenham and the contest will help the trainer and owner Susannah Ricci decide which race to target at The Festival in March – the Stan James Champion Hurdle or the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.


Walsh commented today: “I think Annie Power is a good mare and the trip will suit her.


“This will give her a look at Cheltenham, even though it is the New Course. I am hopeful.”


Earlier during the afternoon, leading novice chaser Oscar Whisky meets three rivals in the £32,000 Cheltenham Pony Club Raceday Novices’ Chase (1.20pm).


The Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old, ridden by Barry Geraghty, has already run twice at Cheltenham this season, making his debut over fences in the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase at The Open on November 15 when beaten a neck by Taquin Du Seuil, who re-opposes tomorrow with A P McCoy again up on the Jonjo O’Neill-trained seven-year-old.


Oscar Whisky then won the Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Novices’ Chase at The International on December 13 and is going tomorrow for his sixth Cheltenham success and a third victory on New Year’s Day.


Trainer Fergal O’Brien, who trains not far from Cheltenham Racecourse at Coln St Dennis, is hoping 2014 begins in the best possible fashion when he saddles three runners at the Home of Jump Racing on New Year’s Day.



The richest race on tomorrow’s card is the £50,000 Grade Three Fairlawne Handicap Chase (2.30pm, eight runners) which takes place over two miles and five furlongs of the New Course. O’Brien is represented by Silver Roque, owned by former Cheltenham Racecourse chairman Lord Vestey.


The eight-year-old disappointed last time out when pulled up in the £100,0000 Grade Three Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup over the same course and distance on December 14, but posted a facile 16-length success under top-weight at Sedgefield on November 12. Paddy Brennan takes the ride again.


O’Brien said: “Silver Roque ran horrendously at Cheltenham last time so we have decided to put some blinkers on him tomorrow. Hopefully, they will do the trick.


“We couldn’t find anything wrong with him after his last race. They jumped off and went very quick and he was just a bit lethargic. I told Paddy (Brennan) to take his time on him. He missed the first couple and we were always having to chase after that, so tomorrow we will try and ride him more prominently and liven him up a bit.”


Also set to take part in the Fairlawne Handicap Chase is the Stewart Family Gold Cup winner Double Ross from the yard of Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by his son Sam. The weights are headed by the Venetia Williams-trained Drumshambo, successful in a Listed handicap chase at Ascot on in November and fourth at The 2013 Festival in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase. Williams is also represented by Carrickboy, who recorded a 50/1 shock when successful over the course and distance in the Byrne Group Plate at The Festival last season. Another in-form trainer, Paul Nicholls, runs Cedre Bleu, who went down by a neck in a valuable handicap chase at Ascot on December 21.


O’Brien is doubly represented in the second race of the day, the £20,000 Foundation Developments Ltd Handicap Chase (12.45pm, 13 runners) over an extended three and a quarter miles with Alvarado and Bradley. Paul Moloney partners Alvarado, with Paddy Brennan aboard Bradley.


Alvarado was last seen out when triumphant in the Grade Three Murphy Group Handicap Chase over three miles and three furlongs at Cheltenham on November 16, a race in which Bradley finished just under four lengths back in third. Bradley has made one appearance since, when a distant ninth in the London National at Sandown Park on December 7.


O’Brien continued: “Alvarado was declared for the Charlie Hall at Wetherby on Boxing Day but missed the race, mainly due to the ground.


“He seems to enjoy Cheltenham so we thought we would go back there with him and take our chance tomorrow. He is pretty high in the weights (joint top-weight of 11st 12lb), but hopefully he will be able to carry it OK.


“We were a bit disappointed with Bradley last time at Sandown, especially as he ran so well on his first two runs of the season at Cheltenham. We thought he had a right squeak at Sandown but he never picked the bridle up. He jumped well but just didn’t seem to travel. So we have decided to put some blinkers on him tomorrow and will see how he gets on.”



The opening race at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day promises to be a cracker, with the unbeaten pair of Royal Regatta and Racing Pulse taking on the McCoy-ridden Ballyalton, who has won all three of his starts this season, in the £10,000 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (12.10pm) which has attracted seven runners over an extended two and a half miles.


Racing Pulse, a five-year-old son of Garuda, won an Irish point-to-point easily in May and took a Naas bumper over two miles and three furlongs impressively on October 28 before being bought by owner Carl Hinchy and sent to Malton, Yorkshire trainer John Quinn.


Racing Pulse made his debut for Quinn in a Newcastle hurdle over two miles and six furlongs under James Reveley on December 12 and won very easily.


Quinn, who has booked Reveley again, said today: “Racing Pulse seems quite a nice horse. We are happy with him.


“He won well at Newcastle but has different opposition tomorrow. At least we will know where we are going after tomorrow as it is a decent race.


“He’s not slow this horse – I don’t think this trip will be his undoing as he is not a plodder.”


The two other races on the terrific Cheltenham card are the £20,000 Rewards4Racing Handicap Hurdle (1.55pm – three miles), with 11 runners including 2012 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up The Giant Bolster who switches back to the smaller obstacles after unseating his jockey at Aintree last time out, and the concluding £20,000 EBF High Sheriff Of Gloucestershire’s Junior Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (3.40pm – one mile, six and a half furlongs) which has 12 declared runners including three who are unbeaten – Coyaba, Hurricane Hollow and Lady Buttons.


New Year’s Day at Cheltenham


New Year’s Day at Cheltenham offers the perfect opportunity to see in 2014 with a bang, offering a seven-race card running from 12.10pm through to 3.40pm.


The two richest races on the card are the £50,000 Grade Three Fairlawne Handicap Chase and the £32,000 Grade Two Cheltenham Pony Club Raceday Novices’ Chase which in recent years has been won by horses of the calibre of Champion Court (2012), Calgary Bay (2009), My Way de Solzen (2007) and The Listener (2006).


New Year’s Day is also a highlight for Pony Club members and their families, who have the chance to look behind the scenes in special racecourse tours.


The Family Fun Zone will also be open on New Year’s Day offering free fun for the children including face painting, balloon modelling, colouring and loads more including special appearances of Peppa Pig at selected times.


It is located in the shopping village and open from 10.30am until the last race. Adults need a Club/Tattersalls ticket to access the Family Fun Zone and children must be accompanied at all times.


The gates open at 10.30am and accompanied children aged under 18 gain FREE admission.


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