The King George at Kempton is the first of those highlights, on Boxing Day, and with Cheltenham Festival winners from the past three years in Cue Card, Al Ferof and Long Run in the line up is has all the hallmarks of a cracking race. No doubt bookies will make a few changes to the Gold Cup market afterwards.
The following day has the williamhill.com Desert Orchid Chase, again at Kempton, and this year a race that will attract even more attention than the King George. Yesterday brought the news people throughout racing had hoped for, as trainer Nicky Henderson confirmed that star chaser Sprinter Sacre has got rid of all the mucus that prevented him running in the Tingle Creek Chase recently, and will make his seasonal reappearance in the race. It will be a major surprise if he doesn’t win, and a great disappointment to me, as I backed him this time last year to remain unbeaten throughout 2013.
Henderson said, “Antibiotics cleared up his problem in no time. He worked very well on Saturday and again this morning, and we scoped him on Monday and it was clean. As he missed his earlier target we are keen to run him, and it still gives us three weeks to the Victor Chandler at Ascot.”
His presence in the line up gives weight to Kempton’s desire to have the race upgraded to Grade 1 status, which it last had in 1997 in its earlier incarnation, Wetherby’s Castleford Chase.
On Saturday week, Chepstow takes centre stage for the Welsh National. Prize money for the race will top £100,000 for the first time, in the first running under a new five-year sponsorship deal with Coral announced yesterday. Their association with the race stretches back to 1973, making it the third longest current sponsorship. Spokesman David Stevens suggested prize money would continue to rise over the term of the deal.
Speaking for Arena Racing Company, which runs Chepstow, Phil Bell, Executive Director South West said, “Over the years, our Coral Welsh Grand National has delivered so many stories that have reflected exuberance with AP McCoy’s wins on Synchronised in 2010, heart-warming emotions when the Alner family defeated the odds with Miko de Beauchene in 2007 to last year’s epic battle in which Paul Carberry delivered the ultimate performance easing the Michael Tindall-owned Monbeg Dude to victory. So many of the winners, from Corbiere to Synchronised, are among the true greats of jump racing and this year’s renewal will hopefully deliver another great story.”
All true, though I shall take my usual path for the rest of the season and not back the winner of a race that always seems to take something more out of the horses than you would expect.