Champ at the bit for a New Year's Day with two top-class acts on show
What a way to start the year, not with one champ but two – each ensuring that 2020 begins with a bang on either side of the Irish Sea.
While Champ may be a champ in name only at present, the horse named after 20-time title holder Sir Anthony McCoy has generated more excitement than virtually any other so far this jumps season.
His legion of fans – and the ante-post oddsmakers – would tell you it is only a matter of time before he is crowned an actual champion himself.
Before the Paddy Power Broken Resolutions Already Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham (1.25), he is hot favourite for the RSA Chase at the Festival in March, quoted no bigger than 7-2 for a race that you can get double-figure odds about every other contender bar two.
That is a measure of the impression he has created in winning both his races at Newbury, where the only real scare came when he almost missed the run-in and ducked out at the elbow last time out.
"He just wanted to go round again," Barry Geraghty joked after success in a race won by Bobs Worth, Coneygree, Clan Des Obeaux and Denman.
Champ may or may not go on to emulate those future Gold Cup winners – or dual King George VI Chase scorer Clan Des Obeaux – but a champ who has already achieved that feat appears at Tramore less than an hour later.
Al Boum Photo caused scarcely a ripple in the Cheltenham betting when he landed the Savills New Year's Day Chase (2.20) in 2019. Nor was it huge news that Willie Mullins was landing a Grade 3 event he had won four times in the previous seven years.
Yet ten weeks later he gave his trainer an elusive Gold Cup success – after six second places – with a memorable triumph under Paul Townend.
Mullins has not won 13 Irish titles by fixing something that isn’t broken and he launches Al Boum Photo's season in the same place, bypassing Leopardstown in the belief the ground will be more suitably soft by the County Waterford coast.
His chaser, racing for the first time since pipped by stablemate Kemboy at Punchestown last spring, reappears as Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite after a turbulent week in the ante-post market.
If he can see off two stablemates, as well as Gigginstown's smart mare Shattered Love, he could be a short price come teatime, despite his trainer's fears that "a lot of our big horses, having their first runs, are needing it".
Kalashnikov has 2020 vision for better fortune
Amy Murphy is hoping it will be third time lucky at Cheltenham for Kalashnikov, who is due a change of fortune.
Her stable star looked the winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle in 2018, only to be caught close home by Summerville Boy.
And the Racing Post Arkle Chase last March was another one that got away as he was hampered and unseated his rider, just a few weeks before scoring decisively in Grade 1 novice company at Aintree.
Not that his ill luck is confined to Cheltenham. Kalashnikov suffered when omitted fences turned Aintree's Old Roan Chase in October into a test of flat speed.
And he was mugged again by Oldgrangewood last time after he looked to have put a two-and-a-half-mile chase at Newbury to bed.
He is 1lb better off with the winner for their rematch in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase (2.00) and success off a BHA mark of 161 would throw down a serious marker for the Ryanair Chase in March.
Auld acquaintances brought to mind at Musselburgh
The Scots take new year seriously, with two days of public holiday rather than one, and there is good cause for racing to celebrate north of the border.
Last week Hamilton chief executive Vivien Currie was given an MBE for services to racecourse management, business and charity in the Honours List.
Then Kelso raced on Sunday, meaning that all its 15 meetings of 2019 had gone ahead, quite a feat in a scenic corner of the Borders where cold and wet weather is not unknown.
Now Musselburgh launches a huge year, when its future will be secured as Chester takes over the course, with a televised card that features the 151st running of the New Year Sprint, a handicap for human athletes over 110 metres.
ITV viewers also have two horseraces to enjoy, with auld acquaintances certainly not forgotten in either.
Three of the last four winners are reunited in the Betway Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle (2.15), while Indian Temple attempts to turn back the clock to New Year's Day in 2016, which is when he won the Betway 'Auld Reekie' Handicap Chase (1.40).
The meeting has lured a 6,000 capacity sellout attendance and there are no general admission tickets left.
Today on ITV Racing: ARMCHAIR GUIDE
Paddy Power Broken Resolutions Already Dipper Novices’ Chase (Grade 2)
Champ attempts to make it three from three over fences – and nine from 12 overall – in a race Nicky Henderson has won twice in the last six years.
Betway "Auld Reekie' Handicap Chase
Indian Temple tries to repeat his success of 2016, while Alistair Whillans bids for a first Scottish victory in five years with course winner Cracking Destiny.
Paddy Power Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
Smart chaser Kalashnikov bids for a first win of the season, 1lb better off for the nose he was beaten by Oldgrangewood at Newbury last time.
Betway Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle
Normal Norman, Sir Chauvelin and Aristo Du Plessis, three of the last four winners, attempt to take advantage of the weight they receive from Snookered, who is unbeaten in four runs this season.
Paddy Power 69 Sleeps To Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle
The 2017 King George VI Chase winner and 2018 Gold Cup second Might Bite reverts to hurdles for the first time since 2016, giving 16lb to Irish raider The Jam Man, who is on a five-timer.
Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2)
Roksana and William Henry return to the scene of their victories at last year’s festival, taking on Emitom, who has his first run since chasing Champ home in a Grade 1 novice event at Aintree last April.
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