Time for everyone to take a a big deep breath after a manic couple of weeks over the Christmas and New Year period. The Jumps Racing calendar has been jam packed with fixtures as always at this time of year and we have seen the stars of the sport, both equine and human, strut their stuff on the turf.
This week, on the road to Cheltenham, we take a look back at some of the star performers from the festive period with at least one eye on the Festival, which is now just ten weeks away.
Tom Lee is part of the team this year and he gives us his thoughts on the festive action;
Thistlecrack Makes History At Kempton
There is no doubt whatsoever that Thistlecrack was the star of the Christmas period as he became the first novice in history to win the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
The World Hurdle winner was thrown in at the deep end against defending champion and stable-mate Cue Card but he clearly belonged as he jumped with his usual enthusiasm. Tom Scudamore let out an inch of rein on the home turn and that was all she wrote.
Cue Card was simply unable to live with him and in the end Thistlecrack won easing down. The bare form of this win was perhaps not that of a superstar but sometimes you have to trust your eye and there is no doubt that he is the most exciting horse in training.
Colin Tizzard was delighted as Cue Card completed the 1-2 but all focus was on Thistlecrack who is now the red hot favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The 9YO is now even money, from 11/4, for the big race in March whilst Cue Card could now be re-routed to the Ryanair Chase after his humbling at Kempton.
Elsewhere on the Boxing Day card at Kempton we saw Yanworth emerge as a genuine Champion Hurdle Hurdle contender. The Alan King horse looked in trouble at one stage in the Christmas Hurdle but he battled back well to beat The New One a touch cosily in the end and all roads now lead to the day one showpiece for him.
It is hard to see Yanworth beating a fully fit Faugheen or Annie Power but he could well be next best and as such he is a 5/1, from 7/1, shot for the Champion Hurdle with Bet Victor.
The action continued at Kempton on the 27th December and the star of the show was Altior as he continued his unbeaten start to his novice chase career. The supreme Novices Hurdle hero destroyed some decent horses and once again you have to trust your eye with a horse like this.
Comparisons to Sprinter Sacre are premature at this stage but he could hardly have been any more impressive so far, and he is the 5/4f for the Arkle.
The Stars Come Out to Play At Leopardstown
It was just as busy on the other side of the Irish Sea between Christmas and New Year as Leopardstown took centre stage for their four day fixture.
The action there kicked off on St Stephens Day and the star was Min who easily won the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase for Willie Mullins. Identity Thief was pulled up which was a shame but the field was no match for Min who is clearly a better a chaser than he was hurdler.
He is on a collision course for the Arkle which means a re-match with Altior and although he has to go some way to reverse the supreme form, the Rich Ricci chaser is clearly top quality and is now 7/2, from 4/1, with Paddy Power for the 2m Novice Championship race at Cheltenham.
The action cranked up another notch on the 27th December with the great Douvan hacking up to win the Paddy Power Cashcard Chase over 2m1f. It was nothing special ion terms of form as he beat Sizing John for what felt like the 50th time but he did it well and remains red hot favourite at 1/2f, from 4/7, for the Champion Chase.
It was a terrific few days for Willie Mullins at Leopardstown and he unearthed another future star in the form of Ballyward who won the bumper over 2m4f. He won the race with his head in his chest and he looks a future stayer in the making for the Irish Champion trainer and Graham Wylie.
Super mare Vroum Vroum Mag continued the success for Willie Mullins as she won the 3m Christmas Hurdle in good style and she remains a top class animal. Where her future lies remains up in the air at the moment but she was trimmed into 7/1, from 8/1, by Bet victor for the Stayers' Hurdle after this win and she could easily turn up as a player in that contest.
It wasn't all roses over Christmas for Willie Mullins has Djakadam flopped in the Lexus Chase when starting as a warm favourite. It was Outlander who claimed a slightly surprise win in the Lexus for Gordon Elliott with Don Poli bouncing back to some sort of form to finish 2nd.
A number of them finished pretty close together in the Lexus which does throw into doubt the quality of the form but all roads now lead to the Gold Cup for Outlander, with 20/1 the best price in the village about him for that contest.
There was more success for Gigginstown on the final day of the Leopardstown meeting with Petit Mouchoir impressing in the Ryanair Hurdle. The Henry de Bromhead horse has improved on every start this term and he blew away Nichols Canyon with a very taking turn of foot to claim the Grade 1 contest.
Bet Victor slashed his Champion Hurdle price in half as a result of this latest win with Petit Mouchoir now a 10/1, from 20/1, shot for the day one feature at the Cheltenham Festival.
More Festive Eye Catchers...
There was plenty of action away from Kempton and Leopardstown over Christmas with plenty more horses catching the eye.
Bellshill hardened as the RSA Chase favourite (5/1 from 6/1) as a result of an impressive outing at Limerick and at the moment he looks like he will be hard to beat in that contest.
Neon Wolf continued his unbeaten career with a win at Exeter in the novice hurdle for Harry Fry, whilst Messire Des Obeaux impressed to win the Challow for Alan King and plenty are interested in him when it comes to the Neptune.
We should also mention Whisper who held off Clan Des Obeaux to win the Dipper at Cheltenham on New Year's Day for Nicky Henderson. It was a fine performance from the Seven Barrows in-mate and he was installed as a 14/1 shot for the JLT in March whilst Clan Des Obeaux remains of interest having made a mistake which halted his progress.