Boxing Day racing is so close we can almost smell it (or is that another batch of mince pies in the oven?).
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We still have an action-packed weekend of Jump racing from Haydock Park and the chance for one of Flat racing’s great ambassadors to make her mark on the sporting world on Sunday evening.
Let’s take a look at Five Things You Need To Know About This Weekend’s Racing ….
HOLLIE WOULD BE A FESTIVE WINNER OF BBC SPOTY
Regular readers of this column will know it’s almost exclusively about the action ON the track, but we make no apologies for kicking this one off with something a bit different.
In a week when Frankie Dettori - one of Flat racing’s greatest ambassadors – turned 50, it seems fitting that one of the sport’s newest talents bids to put a flag in the ground for horseracing in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards.
Hollie Doyle is only 24 but has already smashed records and set new standards, winning her first Group 1 race this season and breaking the record for wins in a season by a female jockey for a second successive year.
Her success is such that it’s only really those outside horseracing who refer to her being female at all, as to those who aren’t used to the equal playing field that men and women operate on in racing her achievements are all the more remarkable.
Tune in to BBC One on Sunday evening to vote and help Hollie become this year’s Sports Personality of the Year, emulating the brilliant Sir AP McCoy who was racing’s last winner of the trophy in 2010.
Win, lose or draw, racing is lucky to have Hollie Doyle.
HAYDOCK DEBUTANT IS READY TO ROLL AGAIN
We might only be racing at one Jockey Club track this weekend but what we lack in quantity we more than make up for in quality.
One of the highlights of December is undoubtedly the Betfair Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase, named after the former Haydock Park director of 30 years who spent 13 of those as racecourse chairman.
The roll call of winners – Suny Bay, Bobby Grant, Cloudy Lane and Cannington Brook to name but a few – highlights the pedigree of the race and many placed horses down the years have gone on to Grand National glory.
More recent winners include Yala Enki, Daklondike and last year’s Lord Du Mesnil but there are no victors among the 10 declared for Saturday afternoon’s contest.
However, one of those with an excellent chance would be Roll Again for Venetia Williams, who trained Yala Enki to win this four years ago. This will be his first appearance at Haydock but if his performance last time out at Ludlow is anything to go by (over the same trip of 3m 1f) then he is hard to look past.
Anthony Honeyball’s Sojourn is another with plenty of good form, including a win 48 days ago at Carlisle on the kind of heavy ground he’s likely to encounter here. A lightly-raced seven-year-old he has an impressive and consistent CV, with three wins from seven starts and worst finish of fourth from 16.
WEDGE HOPES TO LAND MARES LISTED HURDLE AGAINST ALL ODDS
From a race for staying chasers we turn our attention to the Back And Lay On The Betfair Exchange Mares’ Novices’ Listed Hurdle, over the much sharper trip of 2m 2f.
Last year the unfancied Desaray Girl won at a huge 25-1 and although this year’s field is likely to be much more closely bunched together in the markets, it’s the aptly-named Against All Odds who catches the eye.
Jockey Adam Wedge is having another fine season and after missing this mare’s victory last time out at Catterick will be keen to get her into the winner’s enclosure himself this time.
At 10-1 there will be others who will no doubt appeal to the masses and among those to consider are Will Victory and Northern Beau. The latter is one of two runners for Michael Scudamore, who himself is enjoying a great season so far.
Scudamore’s other contender is Nada To Prada, a mare with only three runs to her name and a fair bit to prove. However, with two wins on heavy ground at Ffos Las and Warwick in 2020 there’s everything to suggest she is good enough to repeat the success here.
PUNTERS BANKING ON WAR LORD TO EXERT HIS POWER
There’s another intriguing contest over the same 2m 2f at Haydock on Saturday that has got our full attention – the Betfair Exchange Handicap Hurdle.
Colin Tizzard was pretty disappointed with the way his stable star Lostintranslation ran at this course in the Grade One Betfair Chase last month, but there were no such concerns when the exciting War Lord won on the same card.
Robbie Power was on board that day and returns here to take the ride on a horse who seems to thrive on being held up and pushed towards the end of a race. There are no concerns about the ground and punters have already backed him into a notable 3-1 to follow up at the scene of his last win.
Of the rest, Neil Mulholland’s Chirico Vallis must overcome top weight for what would be a third victory so far this season and Adam Wedge rides the consistent The Last Day for Evan Williams.
Don’t ever rule out the reining champion jockey Brian Hughes, either. He partners Albert’s Back for the horse’s first Haydock outing and will be hoping he can follow up their victory at Wetherby last month.
O’BRIEN’S DANCER HAS ALL THE RIGHT MOVES
Jump racing fans will tell you one of the key reasons they prefer it to action on the Flat is that you get to see familiar equine faces returning year after year.
Those who make that argument will be in their element when the last race on the card, the Listen to Paul Nicholls On Betting.Betfair Handicap Hurdle, begins at 3.15pm.
Clyne for the Evan Williams and Adam Wedge team is a horse who could find his way round Haydock Park with a blindfold on, never mind blinkers. But he hasn’t won here since 2016 and has only been successful once more in the meantime, so the burden of top weight and two unplaced finishes this season make him a tough case to present.
Queenohearts for Stuart Edmunds and young Ciaran Gethings is another who was plenty good enough when last seen on a racetrack with form of 112110 to his name. Problem is, that last run was a whopping 646 days ago.
So we turn our attention to Fergal O’Brien’s Goodbye Dancer with the in-form Paddy Brennan in the saddle - a trainer-jockey pairing who are having a season to remember.
On closer inspection, this gelding’s form is not making its way onto any postcards home to your loved ones, but a decent run last Friday at Cheltenham in better company suggests O’Brien has seen something to turn him back out swiftly in a lower quality field.
Under the Government guidelines up to 2,000 racegoers will be allowed to watch the action at Haydock Park on Saturday afternoon but for those who can’t be there, you can do your wrapping in front of the fire with Racing TV or ITV on.
We can’t think of an excuse not to!