The jumps season is back in the UK and that means all roads lead to the Cheltenham Festival in March in what is the highlight of the National Hunt campaign. Over the next few weeks, the leading horses will make their seasonal reappearances where connections will be hoping they can shake off the cobwebs and make a winning start.
Here are three horses that could have a big season and are worth watching in their respective divisions at the Festival.
Credit: At The Races via Twitter
Nicky Henderson’s Buveur d’Air will be chasing his third straight Champion Hurdle success this season, something which has not been done since the great Istabraq managed the feat in 2000. Victory in the premier hurdle contest on day one in March will certainly help the seven-year-old elevate himself into that category as one of the best in the modern era. Buveur d’Air could return to action in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, the race he won last year. Henderson’s runner has now prevailed in his last ten races so it will be exciting to see how far he can stretch that winning run.
Altior has been a winner at the last three Cheltenham Festivals and on ratings alone, he is one the leading horses still in training today. Unfortunately, we only saw Altior for the last three months of last season as he had wind surgery in the early stages of the campaign which put him out of action until February. Despite his setback, it did not stop Henderson’s chaser from claiming the Queen Mother Champion Chase where he was fantastic in the 2m contest. Altior is the evens favourite, as mrgreen sportsbook shows, to retain his crown in the Champion Chase next year and that looks a very fair price. At evens, the odds would suggest Altior has a 50% chance of winning the race which, as anybody has seen the horse run knows, that percentage should be much higher.
Credit: BHA Press Office via Twitter
Might Bite suffered just one defeat last season in what, up until that point, was a fantastic campaign for the chaser. Unfortunately for connections, his sole loss came in the Blue Riband event in the sport, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, where he finished second behind Native River. After a victory in his opening run of the campaign at Sandown, Might Bite then went on to score the biggest success of his career in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day where he defeated Thistlecrack, Whisper, Bristol De Mai and Fox Norton. In what will be just his third season over fences, fans of the horse can expect Might Bite to peak in the 2018/19 campaign. The Triple Chase Crown is likely to be the target for the nine-year-old this season, therefore his first run could come at Haydock next month before he returns to Kempton to defend his crown in the King George.
Wincanton racecourse is a thoroughbred horse racing track located in Wincanton, England. It is owned and operated by the Jockey Club Racecourses. The racecourse hosts National Hunt races only. In his book, Paul Nicholls reflects on how Wincanton played a major role in his career as a jockey. Paul won a race in 1982 at the racecourse, which is located not far from his yard. It has large steeplechase fences, making the races more challenging, thus interesting. In 2008, Wincanton recorded the highest casualty rate of 9 in the whole country.
Racing at Wincanton was first recorded on Thursday the 25th of August, 1870. It was held at Hatherleigh, just about one mile from the town center. It featured the Hatherleigh Stakes, which was won by Filly Edna, being ridden by HM Rudd. As the years went by, more meetings were held in the racecourse each year. In 1893, the Wincanton Hunt Steeplechase committee was formed, and a meeting took place on Easter Monday of the same year. Just before the wars began, the Wincanton Races Company Ltd was formed. Its progress was however slowed down between 1914
and 1919 when the war erupted. In 1925, the racecourse was moved to its current venue at Kingwell Farm, after the lease at Hatherleigh farm had expired. The first meeting happened at Kingwell on the 18th of August, 1927.
Some of the most notable races held at the course are the Kingwell Hurdle and the Badger Ales Trophy. The Kingwell Hurdle was first run in 1971. It is a Grade 2 race, and only horses aged four years and above take part in it. It takes place every February. The Badger Ales also takes place in February, and the horses compete over a total distance
of 3,077 meters. Coming up this year is the Smarkets Ladies Day, which is scheduled for the 15th of May. It features several races, plus a best dressed lady competition. Gates will be opening as from noon, and the first race beginning at 2:20pm.
One of the most popular horses of all time, Red Rum is recognized as one of the finest Thoroughbred steeplechasers of all time. With a historic treble when it won the Grand National in 74, 74 and 77, it came second in both 75 and 76 to what would have been unprecedented levels of victory. However, the fact it won three times and finished up runner-up twice in the hardest race on the horseracing circuit is impressive enough!
Ridden by the likes of Tommy Stack and Brian Fletcher, this horse was known to be an incredible beast of legendary stamina and determination.
It was also known for an incredible jumping capacity, with over 100 races under its belt without a single fall in that period. Indeed, it’s Grand National history is down to that capacity to stay strong. The 1973 comeback is considered by many to be among the finest comebacks in the history of the Grand National. The 77 triumph was voted by a UK poll as the 24th greatest sporting moment to ever take place.
With over £140,000 in winnings taken over a 30-year life, Red Rum was a horse that had an incredible level of potential and output. One of the interesting tales about Red Rum, too, is that famous UK comedian Lee Mack got to his enjoy his first ever riding lesson on the famous steed.
Although the only other major win that Red Rum managed across its career game in the 1974 Scottish National, it still holds a massive statue at Aintree to commemorate a unique life. Also, it has a Red Rum Handicap Chase event that takes place at Aintree.
When it died aged 30, it was front page news on most national newspapers and it was buried at the winning post of Aintree Racecours. It was named as the best-known racehorse in the UK, and could even be credited with saving the Grand National. Interest was waning at the time, but the arrival of Red Rum sparked public interest once again and, thus, the legendary event was saved!