Sunday, December 30, 2018 - The £50,000 G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (3.10pm, 11 entries) is one of the highlights on a tremendous seven-race card at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, Tuesday, January 1, 2019.
Run over just beyond two and a half miles, the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle Race moved to the New Year's Day programme at the Home of Jump Racing in 2016, having previously been staged at The International in mid-December.
It commemorates the hugely-popular Relkeel, who landed three consecutive renewals of what is now the G2 Unibet International Hurdle (1997, 1998 and 1999), and the New Year's Day race boasts a fabulous roll of honour with Unibet Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby and Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle victor More Of That having prevailed in recent years.
Among the 11 entries for this year's contest are two outstanding mares from Ireland's champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins - Laurina and Benie Des Dieux. Both of the Mullins-trained mares were winners at The Festival™ presented by Bulmers last season, with Laurina landing the G2 Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle by a stunning 18 lengths and Benie Des Dieux taking the G1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle, in which she had the outstanding multiple G1 winner Apple's Jade back in third. Both prefer soft ground and decisions about their participation depend on the weather.
The Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle entries also include last year's winner Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies), who went on to finish third in the G1 Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle at The Festival™ presented by Bulmers, and Old Guard (Paul Nicholls), who landed both the G3 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle and G2 Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2015 and will appreciate stepping up in distance after finishing sixth in the latter race earlier this month. Clyne (Evan Williams) could drop back in trip, having made a pleasing reappearance when runner-up in the G2 Long Distance Hurdle over three miles at Newbury on November 30.
Midnight Shadow (Sue Smith) was the game winner under top-weight of a two and a half-mile handicap hurdle at Aintree on December 8. The son of Midnight Legend, who turns six on New Year's Day, ended last season with a 25/1 success in the G2 Scottish Champion Limited Handicap Hurdle at Ayr and trainer Sue Smith is hoping there is more to come.
The West Yorkshire-based handler revealed:
"The Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle is a possibility for Midnight Shadow. He came out of his win at Aintree very well and won nicely that day. He likes soft ground and I think he is very special. He won the Scottish Champion Hurdle last season and the idea is to keep him over hurdles and see if he can improve again."
Another possible starter in the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle is Thomas Campbell (Nicky Henderson), a two-time Cheltenham winner who could revert to hurdles having competed in novices' chases on his last two starts.
The seven-race programme at Cheltenham on New Year's Day commences at 12.15pm and runs through to 3.50pm.
The 2017 G1 Ryanair Chase third Aso (Venetia Williams) heads the weights on 11st 12lb for the most valuable race on the card, the £75,000 Download The BetBright App Handicap Chase (2.00pm, 15 entries) over an extended two and half miles.
The 2017 JCB Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs), who was successful in a novice chase at Exeter earlier this month, features among 12 entries for the £35,000 G2 BetBright Dipper Novices' Chase (1.25pm), also run over an extended two and a half miles.
His rivals could include the first two home in the G1 Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree last season - Black Op (Tom George), who was third to Defi Du Seuil at Exeter, and Lostintranslation (Colin Tizzard) - plus On The Blind Side (Nicky Henderson), who twice scored at G2 level over hurdles last season and recent Uttoxeter winner Crucial Role (Dan Skelton).
Racing begins with the Listed £25,000 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (12.15pm), which has 10 entries headed by the Nicky Henderson-trained duo of I Can't Explain and Birchdale, who have both made impressive starts to their careers under Rules.
Martyn Meade and John Ryan may be better known for their Flat exploits, but the trainers could be represented by Cascova and Book Of Invasions respectively in the closing £25,000 Listed EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Bumper (3.50pm) - a 14-furlong race Classic-winning handler Roger Charlton won in 2011 with Keys.
The racing action is completed by the £25,000 Join The BetBright Racing Club Handicap Chase (12.50pm, 20 entries) and the £25,000 Simplify Horse Racing Selections With BetFinder At BetBright Handicap Hurdle (2.35pm, 27 entries).
Accompanied children aged 17 and under gain FREE admission into Cheltenham Racecourse on New Year's Day.
The latest reported going at Cheltenham is: Good to Soft, Good in places
The outlook is for conditions to remain dry.