A new year will bring with it a new era for racing in Britain when the ITV cameras roll for the first time at Cheltenham on Sunday.
Racing fans will be intrigued and they will have a thoroughly consistent and likeable horse in Lil Rockerfeller to cheer on in the feature event, the Grade Two Relkeel Hurdle (15:10).
Neil King’s six-year-old has developed himself a reputation for a being a rock solid, honest performer.
He finished second in this race a year ago behind Camping Ground, with the same rival set to oppose once more along with former World Hurdle winner Cole Harden – third in the race 12 months ago.
Lil Rockerfeller has some 11 lengths to find on Camping Ground although recent form suggests he might well be equipped to do the job.
His two most recent starts have seen him push subsequent Christmas Hurdle winner Yanworth to the pin of his collar at Ascot in November while he also chased home World Hurdle favourite Unowhatimeanharry in the Long Walk back at the same track on December 17.
A reproduction of his effort from the Coral Hurdle over two-and-a-half-miles might just be enough over the same trip here, and Lil Rockerfeller is one teak-tough performer who always gives his best. Camping Ground comes here after disappointing in two starts this season over fences.
The other Grade Two on the Cheltenham card is the Dipper Novices’ Chase over 2m4f and an intriguing field of five are down to line up.
Nicky Henderson has two, with last month’s course-and-distance winner Whisper joined by the promising O O Seven. The latter was very impressive here in November before disappointing next time out at Doncaster, but may be worth giving another chance.
His chief rival in the market looks to be Clan Des Obeaux for champion trainer Paul Nicholls. He was impressive when winning at this level at Newbury in November and rates a big challenger, but may be found out by his Seven Barrows rival now.
In the Grade Three Handicap Chase (14:00), the ever-reliable partnership of Philip Hobbs and champion jockey Richard Johnson looks to hold solid each-way claims with Village Vic.
He wasn’t beaten too far having gone off favourite for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month, and looks sure to give his best once more on New Year’s Day.
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