Much of the country will spend the next couple of weeks up to their necks in tinsel and turkey but that will certainly not be the case in the world of National Hunt racing. The festive fixture list is always a key moment during the season with top class meetings, and races, taking place up and down the UK and over in Ireland on an almost daily basis. Some of the biggest races in the sport are taking place between Christmas and the New Year with plenty of Cheltenham Festival hopefuls set to stake their claims.
We have picked out the key meetings taking place over the Christmas and New Year period and trust us, there is plenty of sport to look forward to! The key Festivals are taking place at Kempton Park and Leopardstown but there is plenty of action elsewhere, including at Newbury and back at Cheltenham on New Years Day.
All eyes will fall on Kempton Park on Boxing Day as the King George VI Chase takes centre stage with one of the most competitive fields in recent memory set to take their chance. Cue Card is the hot favourite after his stunning Betfair Chase success last month with connections hoping he can improve on his run from last year. The seven-year-old flopped in this 12 months ago but has been getting better ever since and will be the one to beat if he arrives at Kempton fit and well for Colin Tizzard.
A win for Cue Card on Boxing Day will see his Gold Cup price slashed but it won't be easy with a number of classy horses set to take him on. Dynaste was second to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase and will re-match here, while the same can be said of Silviniaco Conti, who is a dour stayer for Paul Nicholls. Nicky Henderson will be relying on Long Run in the big race with the former Gold Cup hero looking for a famous third King George success in just four years
The King George is certainly the highlight at Kempton on Boxing Day but there is a cracking supporting card also set to take place. The Feltham Novices Chase is always a strong trial for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham and we are likely to get some nice runners take their chance this season. Just A Par has impressed for Paul Nicholls this season and could get an entry in a race won by Dynaste and Long Run in recent years.
The Christmas Hurdle is also on one of the best races of the season with two of the market leaders for the Champion Hurdle set to go head-to-head. The New One won the International Hurdle at Cheltenham recently and is highly respected but he will face his toughest test yet on Boxing Day. Nicky Henderson has indicated that he will send My Tent Or Yours to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle to take on the New One in a potentially classic clash with the Champion Hurdle in mind.
Nicky Henderson will be hoping for more success on day two of the King George meeting with his stable star, Sprinter Sacre, set to make his seasonal bow. The Queen Mother Champion Chaser has been off track since last season but he will be hoping to enhance his unbeaten record over fences in the Desert Orchid Chase. All eyes will be on the best horse in training after he missed the Tingle Creek following a set-back, but he is expected to be back to his brilliant best in time for Kempton on the 27th Dec.
The Leopardstown Christmas Festival has become one of the best fixtures of the season in Ireland and once again there will be some great action between the 26th and the 29th. There are no less than seven grade 1 races taking place over the four days with the crème de la crème of Irish racing heading to Leopardstown.
The Lexus Chase is perhaps the highlight of the sport at Leopardstown over Christmas with a number of Gold Cup contenders set to clash over three miles. Current Gold Cup hero, Bobs Worth, is expected to make the trip over for Nicky Henderson and is the likely favourite. He flopped last time out in the Betfair Chase though and up against Sir Des Champs, who finished second in the Gold Cup last season, it could be a classic renewal of the Lexus.
The Ryanair Hurdle is the feature race on the final day of the Leopardstown meeting and this could be another Christmas cracker for racing fans. Hurricane Fly is likely to start as a hot favourite for Willie Mullins but maybe this time he will face a genuine test from a couple of top younger horses. Jezki currently holds an entry after winning both of his starts this season while Triumph Hurdle winner, Our Conor, is also a possible at this stage for Dessie Hughes. If all three turn up, which is doubtful, the result of the race will have a massive impact on the Champion Hurdle betting with all three currently shorter than 10/1 for the big Cheltenham race.
The Welsh Grand National is another Christmas tradition in horse racing with the Chepsotw race taking place on Saturday the 28th December. It is the first 'National' of the season and always offers the best staying chasers a solid test in traditionally difficult conditions. The Welsh National is always a great race from a betting point of view with the likes of Goonyella and Sydney Paget currently among the ante-post favourites. Teaforthree is another possible having finished second in this race 12 months ago before following up with a third in the Grand National at Aintree back in April.
On the same day as the Welsh National, there is also a top card taking place down at Newbury. The Challow Novices Hurdle is the grade 1 topping the bill at the Berkshire track. The Challow has been won by the likes of Denman and Reve de Sivola in recent years which highlights the quality of this race over 2m5f. A number of Neptune Novices hurdle fancies could head to Newbury for this one including the progressive Ballyalton and The Liquidator who has impressed so far this season for David Pipe.
The Festive period concludes on New Years Day with the now traditional meeting taking place at Cheltenham. It is always a great day out at Prestbury Park on January the 1st and there is some fantastic racing on offer for punters and fans as always. There is another chance for potential Neptune contenders to have a run in the Neptune Trial over 2m4f and we can expect the best in the division to be split between here, and the Challow at Newbury.
The Grade 2 Dipper Novices Chase is the other highlight of the New Years Day card at Prestbury Park. The 2m4f contest has been won by some decent horses in recent years and we could see some potential Ryanair Chase horse strut their stuff in the Dipper. Recent winners of the race include Champion Court and My Way De Solzen and it will be interesting to see who turns up for the race this season.