Cheltenham welcomes in 2018 on New Year’s Day this Monday with a superb seven-race card that offers record prize money of £260,000.
Progressive mare Colin’s Sister (Fergal O’Brien) features among 12 entries for the £50,000 G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (3.10pm) over an extended two and a half miles.
The six-year-old, a G2 winner over this distance against her own sex at Sandown Park last season, proved herself in open company with a two-length victory over Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies) in the three-mile G2 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on November 4.
Colin’s Sister was last seen out finishing fourth behind shock winner Beer Goggles in the G2 Long Distance Hurdle, also over three miles, at Newbury on December 1.
Her trainer Fergal O’Brien, who is based locally at Naunton, said today: “Colin’s Sister is in good old form and, provided the ground remains testing, we will take our chance.
“I am not worried about the drop back in distance. Paddy (Brennan) was quite patient on her at Wetherby and Newbury, but over this trip on softer ground he will be able to ride her like he did at Sandown and Haydock last season when she won well.
“The nice thing this time is that she gets quite a bit of weight from some of the others and I think that will be important.”
Colin’s Sister’s opponents may include course scorer Old Guard, who has won twice already this season and was a close fifth in the G2 Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham on his latest start, and G1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle runner-up Irving. Both horses are trained by Paul Nicholls.
Agrapart (Nick Williams) defeated L’Ami Serge by a head in this race last season and could bid to emulate the only multiple winner of the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle, Oscar Whisky, who won back-to-back renewals in 2011 and 2012.
Two of this season’s brightest novice chasers, Willoughby Court (Ben Pauling) and Yanworth (Alan King), are set to re-oppose in the £35,000 G2 BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase (1.25pm) over two miles and five furlongs.
The duo met in a G2 novices’ chase at Newbury on December 1, when Willoughby Court, successful in the G1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival in March, maintained his perfect start over fences with a three-length verdict over Yanworth.
Nine entries for the BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase also include last season’s Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle fourth Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies), successful on his only chase start to date at Perth in September, and Ami Desbois (Graeme McPherson), who is unbeaten in two appearances this season.
Waiting Patiently (Malcolm Jefferson), who is yet to taste defeat in four starts over fences, heads 15 contenders for the day’s richest race, the £75,000 G3 BetBright Best for Festival Betting Handicap Chase (2.00pm) over two miles and five furlongs.
His rivals could include recent Listed 188Bet Grand Sefton Handicap Chase third Sametegal (Paul Nicholls), Newbury handicap chase winner Oldgrangewood (Dan Skelton) and Foxtail Hill (Nigel Twiston-Davies), successful in the Randox Health Handicap Chase at The Showcase in October.
Racing gets underway at 12.15pm with the £25,000 Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles, which has 15 entries including G2 Persian War Novices' Hurdle winner Poetic Rhythm (Fergal O’Brien) and Newbury scorer Santini (Nicky Henderson).
Big Buck’s captured the three-mile £25,000 BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle (2.35pm) in 2009 before going on to dominate the staying division and 14 entries for this year’s race include several progressive types including Red Rising (Dan Skelton), Arthur’s Gift (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and Dandy Duke (Tom George).
The £25,000 Listed EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club NH Flat Race (3.45pm) over a mile and three-quarters, which has 24 entries including recent Wincanton scorer Acey Milan (Anthony Honeyball), rounds off the card.
Gates open at 10.30am and, aside from the action on the track, there is lots to keep all members of the family amused. The ROA Family Fun Zone will have special visits from Paddington Bear, to coincide with the release of the latest film.
The first 500 children in the ROA Family Fun Zone will receive a walking pet balloon, and balloon artists Twistina and Twistopher will enthral younger racegoers their art. The entertainment also includes Showtime Shane, face-painting, pony plaiting, horse hoppers, colouring in and rosette making.
There is an abundance of activities for all members of the family to enjoy and certificates to take home to remember the day. There will also be live Animal Magic, bringing a collection of unusual animals to meet. The ROA Family Fun Zone is situated in the tented village.
There will be live music during the day throughout the arenas on New Year’s Day, including from The Hipcats. For those who want to continue New Year celebrations, there will be post-racing entertainment from local Gloucestershire rock and pop cover band The Jacks in The Centaur.