After a long summer of flat racing, jumps racing fans have come out of hibernation and are eagerly anticipating what promises to be another thrilling campaign.
Of course, such is the nature of the jumps racing season nowadays, that all roads lead to the Cheltenham Festival in March.
But those weighing up an ante-post horse racing bet for the Festival are constantly looking for pointers, and the upcoming November Meeting at Cheltenham tends to be a good place to start.
The three-day event is pencilled in to take place at Prestbury Park from 17-19 November, and the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle — Sunday’s feature — is one of the premier events of the meeting.
Three horses lead the market at the time of writing, so let’s take a look at the expected front runners.
Nemean Lion – 8/1
Nemean Lion, who was a useful horse on the flat for Godolphin and Andre Fabre in France, enjoyed a solid first season over hurdles for Kerry Lee last season.
He finished last of five runners on his first start over the smaller obstacles when he reappeared at Doncaster last October following a 748-day break, but he came on for that when winning at Hereford next time out.
The now six-year-old was then second at Haydock and a respectable third in the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown before winning the Grade 2 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso on his final outing of the season.
Nemean Lion reappeared with a win in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las last month and could take all the beating here before going on to bigger and better things this season.
Blueking D’Oroux – 9/1
After his recent win over course and distance for Team Ditcheat, Blueking D’Oroux is a runner who needs serious consideration ahead of the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle.
The Paul Nicholls-trained horse was initially disappointing last season, pulling up on debut for his new yard in the Grade 2 Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle at this course in November, before finishing ninth of 14 runners at Taunton – despite being heavily backed in the racing tips for both.
Wind surgery seemed to work its magic, however, as he returned from a 93-day break to win a Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Ascot from 50/1. He rounded off the season with a second-place finish in a Conditional Jockeys’ and Amateur Riders’ race at Aintree.
Blueking D’Oroux opened this season with a commanding win at the Cheltenham Showcase Meeting and should prove stiff competition for Nemean Lion in this contest.
Luccia – 9/1
Luccia is a horse who flattered to deceive at the business end of last season, leaving a lot to be desired at the big meetings.
The Nicky Henderson-trained mare won both of her bumpers in 2022 with relative ease, including a Listed contest at Sandown, and made a winning start over obstacles when landing another Listed event at Newbury last November.
She followed that up with an 11-length success in a third Listed contest at Exeter in February. That appeared to make her one of the bankers of the Cheltenham Festival, and the bookies made her the 6/4 favourite for the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
However, Luccia could fare no better than fourth at Prestbury Park and ended the season with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle for the Grand National meeting at Aintree.
This is a step back in class from those two races, and it will be interesting to see if Luccia can return to form here.