October 14th and October 15th, mark the dates because it’s when the 2017/18 National Hunt Season really starts to take shape. A favourite for many, we’re getting ready for months of jaw-dropping, heart-stopping and simply brilliant racing that culminates in the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals. We’ve compiled a definitive guide to what you can expect over the coming months, including the key horses and Grade 1 races that will be coming thick and fast.
Types of Races
Bumpers – Also known as National Hunt Flat Races, ‘bumpers’ are designed for horses who have no previous racing experience except for other bumper races, French AQPS races and Point to Point races. They are restricted to horses of the age of seven or younger, raced at distances between thirteen and twenty furlongs. They are typically run at the end of the meeting and are great ways to find talented horses for the future.
Hurdles – The first of the races over obstacles, horses jump hurdles at a height of over three and a half feet. They usually consist of a series of panels that are made of brush and are flexible, hence why you’ll see some horses ‘kicking’ them down if they make an error.
Steeplechases – Also known as simply chases, these races are contested over the larger obstacles which must be at least 4’6″ in height. There are three types of fences which are named ‘Plain Fences’, ‘Open Ditches’ and ‘Water Jumps’. Races over fences are the most unforgiving, needing horses to be as low to the fence as possible without going through the birch, as that costs them both momentum and stamina.
Key Races leading up to the Festivals
The first big race of the season is the Betfair Chase, which takes place at Haydock in November and gives a small indication of the contenders for the 2018 Gold Cup. We’ve included the key races below and what Festival races they can point towards for the end of the season.
November 2017 – Haydock – Betfair Chase (Cheltenham Gold Cup)
December 2017 – Sandown – Henry VIII Novices’ Chase (Arkle Chase), Tingle Creek Chase (Queen Mother Champion Chase)
December 2017 – Ascot – Long Walk Hurdle (Stayer’s Hurdle)
December 2017 – Kempton – Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (RSA Chase), Christmas Hurdle (Champion Hurdle), King George VI Chase (Gold Cup)
December 2017 – Chepstow – Finale Juvenile Hurdle (Triumph Hurdle)
January 2018 – Ascot – Clarence House Chase (Queen Mother Champion Chase)
January/February 2018 – Sandown – Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase (JLT Novices Chase)
Key Festival Races
The three big Festivals that cap off the season are Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown, with the big Irish Festival effectively closing the curtain on the 2017/18 season.
Cheltenham Festival – Champion Hurdle (2m), Queen Mother Champion Chase (2m), Stayer’s Hurdle (3m), Gold Cup (3m 2f, Chase).
Aintree Festival – 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle (2m), Betway Bowl (3m 1f, Chase), Aintree Hurdle (2m 4f), Melling Chase (2m 4f), Ryanair Stayer’s Hurdle (3m, Hurdles) Grand National (4m 4f, Chase).
Punchestown Festival – Champion Chase (2m), Punchestown Gold Cup (3m 1f), Champion Stayer’s Hurdle (3m), Champion Hurdle (2m), Champion 4-Year-old Hurdle (2m).
Some Key Horses
If that doesn’t have you excited for the season ahead, then we’ve compiled a list of some of the horses to watch out for in the coming season. Some will be obvious, but you simply can’t get away from class. There are undoubtedly many horses that we’ve missed off the list but if you think you’ve got a gem for the upcoming season then please share it with us by tweeting @myracingtips!
Faynoagh (Gordon Elliott) – Won the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in breathtaking style and she comes into the season unbeaten in four starts for Gordon Elliott. She looks sure to improve with a step up to 2m 4f+ and is hugely exciting for the season ahead regardless of the route they take.
Getabird (Willie Mullins) – Favourite for the Champion Bumper before a setback, he’s unbeaten in three bumper starts and was hugely impressive at Fairyhouse in December 2016. Sports the colours of the Riccis and looks dangerous now taking to obstacles.
The Big Bite (Tom Lacey) – Outpaced at a crucial stage on his only start when the pace lifted, he ran green when asked for an effort but came home with a purpose to win going away. With further experience and perhaps extra distance, he should come into his own this season and is an exciting prospect.
Death Duty (Gordon Elliott) – The horse that Elliott unashamedly loves, he was sent off favourite for the Albert Barlett at Cheltenham but ran below form. He’s capable of much better and has the scope to make a great chaser, with the RSA Chase perhaps the perfect target for him this season.
Finian’s Oscar (Colin Tizzard) – Hugely progressive over hurdles last season, he won the Tolworth on his third start in ready fashion before being headed on the line at Punchestown in the Champion Novice Hurdle. He was impressive in the point to point sphere and looks sure to be one of the principles for a Grade 1 Novices Chase at Cheltenham.
Sutton Place (Gordon Elliott) – Winner of a Grade 2 in great style over hurdles, he was lame when contesting the Champion Stayers at Punchestown when last seen. He’s held in high regard and has the stature to make a very nice chaser, so is certainly one to watch.
Faugheen (Willie Mullins) – ‘The Machine’, he won the 2015 Champion Hurdle but hasn’t been seen since slamming Arctic Fire at Leopardstown in January 2016. If returning to his best this season with an injury-free run, it goes without saying he’ll be a big contender for the Champion Hurdle.
Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs) – Unbeaten in seven starts for Hobbs including three Grade 1s, the Champion Hurdle has to be the target for Defi Du Seuil and he’s a hugely exciting prospect for this coming season as his limitations are yet to be exposed.
Tommy Rapper (Dan Skelton) – Lightly raced last season for the Skeltons, he ran some very good races including a close second behind subsequent Neptune winner Willoughby Court. He was below form in the Albert Barlett but he will only improve for further experience and looks likely to have his path forged towards the Coral Cup/Pertemps.
Ar Mad (Gary Moore) – Surged to prominence in 2015/16 with rapid improvement, winning the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown by ten lengths. His 2016 Cheltenham tilt was blighted by injury however and the same can be said about his 2016/17 season, which was a huge shame after a hugely promising run in the Tingle Creek on return in 2016. If granted an injury-free season, this bold jumping front-runner looks sure to take another Grade 1 prize.
Might Bite (Nicky Henderson) – Quirky but extremely talented, he would have been a three time Grade 1 winner last season had he not fallen at the last in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. He gave his backers a huge fright when nearly throwing away the RSA on the run-in, but he has bags of potential and the King George VI is his first main target for the season, as confirmed by Nicky Henderson.
Sizing John (Jessie Harrington) – Stepping up in distance last season worked wonders for this seven year old who won three group races towards the end of the campaign, taking the Cheltenham Gold Cup in brilliant style. Connections have confirmed a tilt at the Triple Crown and that begins at Haydock in November with the Betfair Chase so there isn’t long to wait!