How the National Hunt Racing Season Heats Up Through Winter

In most countries, horse racing is fairly quiet during the harsh winter months. Sure, you will get the Breeders’ Cup at the tail-end of Fall and some events, such as the Pegasus World Cup, with the caveat that it’s held in south Florida, can place in January.

However, for the UK and Ireland the winter is an integral part of the national hunt racing season. The truly big events – Cheltenham Festival, the Grand National – will take place in the springtime, of course. However, for most trainers there is lots of hard work to be done and, as we will see, there are plenty of huge events dotted through winter to keep punters happy.

November and December are normally the times we get to see some of the great national hunt horse make their first runs of the season. For example, Altior, who is rated by Timeform as the greatest chaser in the world, took his bow at the Tingle Creek Chase in early December. He clearly hadn’t missed a beat after being off for the summer and is now reaffirmed his status as 8/11 (William Hill) favorite for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Big names popping up every week on racecards

Similarly, Buveur D’Air – double Champion Hurdle winner – made his season debut at the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and cemented his credentials for a third successive Champion Hurdle with current odds at evens (Bet365). These star horses are will pop up frequently in order to flex their muscles, so it’s always advisable to have a peek at tomorrow’s horse racing racecards to see if any big names are running.

For the chasers, one of the most notable events to have taken place so far was the Betfair Chase – a kind of mini-run for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It had a big-odds winner in Bristol De Mai, who is something of a course specialist at Haydock. The grey left Might Bite, Native River and Thistlecrack trailing in his wake. It left the current Gold Cup markets somewhat rattled, with Betfair listing Presenting Percy as the new favorite at 9/2, Native River 11/2, Might Bite 9/1 and Bristol De Mai at a tempting 20/1.

But, as mentioned, the winter racing season will start to really heat up with some cracking events over the Christmas period. Some of those mentioned above will go head to head at the King George VI Chase on 26th December. Reigning champion Might Bite is the 3/1 (Bet365) favorite for that one, but keep an eye on the excellent Waiting Patiently (6/1) who could make his case as a force to be reckoned with.

Christmas Hurdle could be race of the festive period

Indeed, late-December is jam-packed with top class jumps racing events and they do much more than whet the appetite for the climax of the season in the spring. The Welsh Grand National is held on the 27th December and is looking like it could be a thriller. However, there is also the brilliant Christmas Hurdle in Ireland on the 28th December – look out for the likes of Apple’s Jade, Supasundae, Benie Des Dieux and perhaps event the legendary Faugheen racing in that one.

After Christmas, trainers will then start thinking about using their chips wisely. With each race, the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals draw ever closer and connections want to make sure that their horses are primed for the big events. But there are events, like the Denman Chase (Newbury, February) that can act as good indicators for events like the Gold Cup and Grand National.

When the big events roll around in March and April, they rightly take all the headlines and are the races recorded as ‘historical fact’. However, the hard work is put in on the frosty tracks in the winter months. For punters, who have witnessed how their selections tackle all kind of conditions, a satisfactory payoff is possible as reward for tracking horses all through the season.