CHALLOW HURDLE COMPLEMENTS STRONG NEW YEAR'S DAY PROGRAMME AT CHELTENHAM - £223,000 on offer in eight-race bonanza
2006 kicks off with a bumper eight-race programme at Cheltenham, the home of jump racing, on New Year's Day, Sunday, January 1. In total, £223,000 will be on offer in prize money with the card boosted by the addition of the £40,000 Grade One stanjamesuk.com Challow Hurdle (11.55am), which has been transferred from the abandoned meeting at Newbury on Wednesday. The two other main attractions of the day are the £40,000 Listed Unicoin Homes Handicap Chase (2.45pm) and the £35,000 Grade Two Unicoin Homes "Dipper" Novices' Chase (2.10pm).
A total of eight go to post in the stanjamesuk.com Challow Hurdle (11.55pm), run over an extended two and a half miles. A fascinating contest is in store with the unbeaten Boychuck, successful in the Grade Two Anglo Irish Bank Novices' Hurdle at The Open, the similarly unbeaten Denman from the Paul Nicholls yard, last year's Grade Two Aintree bumper hero The Tall Guy and recent impressive winners Ask The Gatherer and Its A Dream all engaged.
The second race of the day is the £16,500 High Sheriff of Gloucestershire's "Crime Beat" National Hunt Novices' Handicap Hurdle (12.25pm) over two miles and a furlong, where the 15 declarations include the highly promising The Mick Weston from the Gloucestershire stable of Richard Phillips.
Local trainer Tom George enjoyed success in what is now the third race of the day, the £27,000 Cheltenham Racing Limited Handicap Chase (1.00pm) over the Gold Cup trip of three miles, two and a half furlongs, with Lord Of Illusion 12 months ago and 13 are set to face the starter in 2006, with Martin Pipe's exciting performer Joaachi set to make his seasonal appearance while Fork Lightning, successful in the William Hill Chase at The Festival in 2004, will be bidding to improve on his encouraging seasonal debut at Cheltenham. In the fourth contest of the afternoon, the £21,000 Steel Plate & Sections Hurdle (1.35pm) over two miles, four and a half furlongs, there are nine declared runners including last year's winner Westender and Henry Daly's exciting youngster Mighty Man, victorious last time out in the "Relkeel" Hurdle at Cheltenham on December 10.
This will be the second year that the Unicoin Homes "Dipper" Novices' Chase (2.10pm) has been held at Cheltenham, following its transfer from Newcastle. Last year's winner of the two mile, five furlong contest was Paul Nicholls' consistent performer My Will while during its years at Gosforth Park, victors included horses of the calibre of future totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Little Owl in 1980 and Blazing Walker in 1989. In more recent times, the best winners have included Bobby Grant (1999) and Barton (2002). Heading the seven runners for the 2006 running is Robert Alner's The Listener, who has caught the eye of many this season with smooth victories at Exeter and Windsor. He is set to face strong competition from the likes of Nigel Twiston-Davies' Knowhere, triumphant on both his two starts over hurdles last year and Leading Man, an impressive winner at Wetherby last time.
Leading Man's trainer Ferdy Murphy reported today: "Leading Man won very well at Wetherby last time and although he really needs three miles, his owner is very keen to get some experience round Cheltenham into him as his main aim this season will be the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at The Festival.
"He is a big horse and will improve as the season goes on. This is a very hot contest but hopefully he will gain some valuable experience. The forecast rain will help him big time.
"I think he is a serious horse - he stays all day and is form is rock-solid all the way through. He was a bit weak last year but is now really growing into himself."
Race six of the afternoon is the £27,000 intercasino.co.uk Handicap Hurdle (2.45pm) over three miles where there are 16 runners while there is the same number of starters in the £40,000 Unicoin Homes Handicap Chase (3.20pm), also run over two miles and five furlongs including Cheltenham regular Fondmort, a previous winner of both the Paddy Power and Robin Cook Memorial Gold Cups, who was travelling well when brought down in this season's Robin Cook Memorial Gold Cup last time out.
Bringing the action to a close is the £16,500 Listed EBF Cheltenham & Three Counties Race Club "Junior" Standard Open National Hunt Flat Racing (3.50pm) with 16 runners. Restricted to four year olds, this race provides a good opportunity for that age group to record a black-type victory and in 2004 fell to Hughie Morrison's well-regarded performer Secret Ploy, who went on to score in Grade Two company at Newbury later in the season while last year's victor Openide was subsequently successful at Cheltenham in April. Among this year's declaration is Sword Of Damascus, victorious on both of his starts to date for Ginger McCain.
The racing will take place on the New Course on the New Year's Day meeting.
The going at Cheltenham is currently GOOD. Clerk of the Course Simon Claisse reported today: "The going was changed to good earlier this morning following rain.
"We are expecting more rain and if the forecast is correct, we could have good to soft ground on New Year's Day.
"The temperature should not present any problems for us, with no frost forecast for tonight or Saturday night.
"The New Year Meeting has attracted a very good card with strong fields and with so much racing having been abandoned earlier this week, we should attract a good crowd."
Admission prices on New Year's Day are combined Club/Tattersalls: £20, 16-24s: £12; Best Mate Enclosure: £8. The gates open at 10.30am.
ROYAL ASCOT TICKETS AVAILABLE FROM TUESDAY
Tickets for Royal Ascot, Tuesday, June 20 to Saturday, June 24, 2006, go on sale to the general public on Tuesday, January 3, 2006. The official opening of the new racecourse will be on Tuesday, June 20, 2006.
The order of running for Royal Ascot is still to be confirmed but there are unlikely to be any changes to the Group One schedule.
Pricing for Royal Ascot 2006 is as follows:
Date - General Admission/Silver Ring
Tuesday, June 20 - £54 (Groups of 10+ £40)/£15 (Groups of 10+ £11)
Wednesday, June 21 - £54 /£15
Thursday, June 22 - £60/£22
Friday, June 23 - £58/£20
Saturday, June 24 - £58/£20
Reserved concourse seating is priced between £20 and £25.
Car parking for General Admission and Silver Ring tickets holders is priced at £15.
For further information or to book tickets please call 0870 727 1234, or visit www.ascot.co.uk / www.royalascot.co.uk.