These are great times for fans of jump racing.
Last weekend, there was the Down Royal’s big meeting, where Gordon Elliott ruled the roost by winning 11 of the 14 races.
No doubt Elliott will again be to the fore this weekend when his local track, Navan, hosts a new two-day festival which brings together some of its best winter races, headed by the Troytown Chase on Sunday.
There’s also a three-day Cheltenham meeting to look forward to this weekend and we can expect a good few Irish winners there too. The feature race is the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday, a race the Irish do not traditionally do well in, winning it only once this century.
This column’s early pick is Fugitif, a very exciting young chaser trained not far from Cheltenham by former jump jockey Richard Hobson. Fugitif finished second to the Irish-trained Seddon at the Cheltenham Festival last March, and can be forgiven for failing to make an impression in a Grade 1 race at Aintree a few weeks later.
Back in handicap company this Saturday, he is fancied to continue his progression.
The following weekend (25-26 November) all eyes will be on Punchestown for its two-day meeting which – for the first time – brings together the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle and the Grade 1 Durkan Chase.
Willie Mullins will be expected to win both contests, with State Man and Galopin Des Champs respectively, but we’ve seen upsets before in these races, and there are sure to be a lot of other very interesting races on those cards too.
Then we’re off to Fairyhouse the weekend after (2-3 December) for the Winter Festival. The Sunday card here features three Grade 1 races (Royal Bond, Drinmore and Hatton’s Grace), all of which have a great record in producing Cheltenham horses.
That meeting is a personal favourite, not to be missed. Willie Mullins has indicated he could run the mighty Impaire Et Passe in the Hatton’s Grace. Unbeaten in five starts, Impaire Et Passe is being aimed at the Champion Hurdle next March, and he is seen as the only realistic challenger to Nicky Henderson’s ‘freak’ Constitution Hill.
With Constitution Hill due to make his reappearance at Newcastle a day before the Hatton’s Grace, we will get a chance to assess whether the reigning champion is unbeatable or if there might be a chink in his armour.
Our thoughts are very much with Galway jockey Graham Lee and his family this week. Graham (47) was riding in a flat race at Newcastle last Friday night when he was unseated as the stalls opened and suffered a serious injury.
At the time of writing, he was in intensive care with a cervical fracture, damage to his spinal cord and other complications. Lee is best known for winning the 2004 Aintree Grand National on Amberleigh House. In an unsual move, he switched from jump racing to flat racing in 2012. He remains the only jockey in history to have won both the Grand National and the Ascot Gold Cup.