As the masses return to work after a sparkling couple of weeks celebrating Christmas and seeing in the New Year, we look back at some of the real festive treats we have seen in the National Hunt ranks. Our round up of all the premier jumping action sees the mighty Faugheen take centre stage, whilst Hurricane Fly, Silviniaco Conti and Rock On Ruby are just another starring triumvirate.
Faugheen Stars At Kempton, As Vautour Flops In Grade 1 Event
Faugheen was the name on everyone's lips as they reminisced about the sparkling racing that had been served up on Boxing Day, as the Willie Mullins-trained superstar produced a scintillating performance to win the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park with aplomb. He already held a lofty reputation following his exquisite win in the Coral Hurdle, but the manner in which he powered to victory in this event was one of sheer class and bookmakers instantly took note and slashed him for the 2015 Champion Hurdle. With The New One opting to bypass the event in favour of a trial race at Haydock Park, it was Faugheen's chance to stamp his mark on the division and he duly asserted with a sheer dominance. A best-priced 5/4 now with most firms for the Champion Hurdle, the Co. Carlow-trained superstar will be the one to beat come March.
Whist Faugheen sparkled in the Rich Ricci colours over Christmas one horse under the same ownership who blotted his copybook was Vautour, as the heralded Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner was forced to settle for second place in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. Sent off a 1/4 favourite, he made a glaring error in the middle of the contest and was then unable to land a blow on the impressive winner Clarcam and Vautour was eased in both the Arkle Challenge Trophy and JLT Novices' Chase betting.
Conti Clear Gold Cup Favourite After King George Romp
Silviniaco Conti produced a memorable front running performance to notch back-to-back wins in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, as he cemented his place as a clear favourite for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival. Sent to the front from the flag fall by Noel Fehily, the Paul Nicholls-trained star set a fierce gallop from the outset and his rivals gradually waved the white flag as they were unable to live with Ditcheat machine, who jumped impeccably throughout the staying showpiece. Slashed into 3/1 with Paddy Power following the win, Silviniaco Conti is the one to beat come the fourth day of the Prestbury Park extravaganza, but the Lexus Chase offered some clues with Road To Riches continuing his progression with a battling success over the likes of Bobs Worth and Sam Winner.
Gutsy Fly Downs Jezki To Bag Ryanair Glory
Hurricane Fly v Jezki was one of the showdowns of the festive break and the two hurdling heavyweights produced a sensational finish in the Ryanair Hurdle which saw the former come out on top for the second time this season. Having already beaten the reigning Champion Hurdler Jezki in the Morgiana earlier in the season, the Fly was sent off the favourite, but he was in for a much stiffer battle than he had faced from Jessica Harrington's stable star at Punchestown. Jumping the last flight almost upsides one another, Ruby Walsh just managed to fend off his good friend AP McCoy and Willie Mullins' sparkling talent landed yet another Grade 1 to send Leopardstown into raptures. Hurricane Fly was trimmed for the 2015 Champion Hurdle, but it's still shorter for Jezki to repeat his Cheltenham Festival heroics, however, with the aforementioned Faugheen on the scene then those two will need to up their game come the spring.
Ruby Rocks To Cheltenham Win And Enhances World Hurdle Claims
Rock On Ruby continued his electric form at Cheltenham as the Harry Fry-trained former Champion Hurdle hero outclassed the highly thought of Vaniteux to land the Dornan Engineering Hurdle on New Year's Day, and he has now emerged as a lively outsider for the 2015 Ladbrokes World Hurdle. A disappointing season over fences saw many question his resolve as he gets older, but a return to timber has revitalised him and he is now around a 12/1 shot for the World Hurdle which is yet to have a big name cement their status as the premier one to beat. Yet again it was Noel Fehily bagging another big win and the manner in which this horse travels around the undulations of Prestbury Park suggests he could be a real player in the three-mile test and with better ground likely to aid his chances then he has to be a major player.
Sprinter Sacre Set For Clarence House Return
Sprinter Sacre was a welcome addition to Newbury's card over the holidays as the former Champion Chaser was handed a schooling session before racing and he duly came through his exertions with flying colours. Nicky Henderson was over the moon following his tough workout with stablemate Tanks For That and he is now set to return to the track on January 19 and line up in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. He made a mistake at the open ditch, but that was more for exuberance and standing a long way off than anything, however, he jumped the rest in style and Barry Geraghty gave a positive debrief to connections and he is on track for that Ascot date. Following his Newbury appearance he was cut for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, which like the World Hurdle, is yet to have a real superstar storm to the head of the betting.