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It's Friday, it's 3 o'clock and it's definitely a Crackerjack

Lee Mottershead sets the scene for a terrific day of TV racing from Newbury

Thistlecrack is back – and jumps fans cannot wait
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If you do not have that Friday feeling on a Friday such as this, then it is almost certain you never have felt, nor ever will feel, anything on a Friday.

For at 3pm on this particular Friday there is a horserace to savour, principally because of two of the horses who will be racing.

In Thistlecrack versus Unowhatimeanharry, the opening afternoon of Newbury's inaugural Ladbrokes Winter Carnival serves up a head-to-head that should be entertaining, intriguing and informative. On top of all that, it's live on the telly.

While Channel 4 showed only the Saturday of this meeting, the sport's new mainstream broadcaster has given fans an early Christmas present by offering up four races, including the eagerly awaited Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle, on ITV4.

The Radio Times shows racing from Newbury followed Watch With Mother on this corresponding Friday in 1958: source, Graeme Wood

This does not represent the first time the Friday action has been shown free to air.

However, when in 1958 BBC Television followed Watch With Mother with a 55-minute programme that featured the Andover Handicap Chase and division two of the Speen Novices' Hurdle, the term free to air had probably not been invented and what was then the Hennessy Gold Cup had just been run for the second time at its original Cheltenham home.

Long Distance clash is the real deal

Fast forward to 2017 and what has for years been the standout highlight of Newbury's calendar will on Saturday be run in its new guise as the Ladbrokes Trophy, with the race also making its debut on ITV.

On this Friday afternoon, ITV will be showing a Lancashire-based episode of Dickinson's Real Deal, in which, apparently, a silver walnut catches the eye of a lady called Jo. On BBC1, a retired couple will be seen searching for a new home in Somerset.

Far more interesting than even the silver walnut is the big race on ITV4.

It was in the very same race two years ago that Thistlecrack began a season in which he dominated the staying hurdlers' scene for the Tizzard team.

At the Cheltenham Festival he produced a truly mesmerising performance, careering up the hill to championship glory. Four months before that he had announced his credentials in style, coming home clear at Newbury, commentator Richard Hoiles describing him as the "new kid on the block".

In the 2016 Long Distance Hurdle it was Unowhatimeanharry who was dominant. He lost when slightly below par at the festival, but he won every other dance he danced. Indeed he has bagged ten of the 11 races he has contested for Harry Fry, including on his seasonal return at Aintree.

That means he comes here with a possible fitness edge on Thistlecrack, who last season metamorphosed into a brilliant chaser, annihilating the opposition in the King George before succumbing to Many Clouds at Cheltenham.

A tendon injury curtailed his campaign, ruling him out of the Gold Cup and keeping him off the track until now. The sport has missed him, yet given plenty of horses spend much longer on the sidelines after tendon trouble we are getting this extraordinary talent back sooner than some might have expected.

For Thistlecrack and Tom Scudamore, this will be the springboard to the defence of their King George crown.

For Unowhatimeanharry, who must concede 6lb to his illustrious rival, this is a chance to show he is the best marathon hurdler in town.

For the rest of us, with Wetherby one-two Colin's Sister and Wholestone adding further strength to the race, it's simply fantastic.

Star novices set for a showdown

Also with the potential to be fantastic is the Grade 2 novice chase that opens ITV4's Newbury coverage.

Like Thistlecrack, Yanworth and Willoughby Court were Grade 1-winning hurdlers whose attention was switched to fences.

Both have one win to their name this term. Yanworth also has a fall. However, the tumble he took at Exeter was unusual in that he did little wrong at the fence. Indeed, in winning at Huntingdon when extremely novicey, Willoughby Court made more jumping errors in one race than Yanworth has in two.

Now a bigger test and trickier fences await these two exciting young horses at Newbury.

Another reason, then, for us to be full of that Friday feeling.


Look back on the best jumps action of the year in the new edition of the Racing Post Annual. Order now at racingpost.com/shop or call 01933 304858


 

At the Cheltenham Festival he produced a truly mesmerising performances, careering up the hill to championship glory
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