Newbury's Ladbrokes Winter Carnival's first day - it's Yanworth versus the mutterers & Thistlecrack versus Unowhatimeanharry
The first Ladbrokes Winter Carnival launches on Friday (December 1) at Newbury Racecourse with a card full of promise.
Local eyes may well concentrate on the £40,000 Ladbrokes Novices' Chase (16 entries) over two and a half miles. Past winners of this G2 contest include future Cheltenham Gold Cup heroes Denman (2006), Bobs Worth (2011) and Coneygree (2014).
This year's renewal will see an exciting clash between dual G1-winning hurdler Yanworth (Alan King) and Cheltenham Festival hero Willoughby Court (Ben Pauling).
After his first successful run of fences at Exeter in October, last month seven-year-old Yanworth was back at Exeter, but fell rather spectacularly at the seventh fence.
There were mutterings that perhaps he should go back to hurdling. But his Barbury Castle trainer Alan King told Racing Post: "I’m hoping that Yanworth shows everyone what he can do – and shuts up one or two people – in the Grade 2 novice chase at Newbury on Friday."
"There was never any chance that he would switch back to hurdles after his fall at Exeter last time. What would be the point of that? Yet I saw that suggestion being made and it does annoy me when so-called experts, who’ve never sat on a horse in their lives, say that sort of thing."
"It’s not as though Yanworth jumped clumsily. He just landed a little steeply and it was a typical novice’s fall. He schooled last Thursday, jumping nine fences, and it was clear from what he did that morning that the fall hadn’t worried him."
And he is odds on the take the race.
Friday also sees Thistlecrack and Unowhatimeanharry go head-to-head in the £50,000 G2 Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle (12 entries) - the highlight race on the opening day of the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival.
Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard) captured the three-mile contest in 2015, kick-starting a nine-race winning streak that included devastating victories in the 2016 G1 Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and G1 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.
He has not raced since going down by a head to Many Clouds in the G2 Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January, after which he sustained a tendon injury.
With Thistlecrack over fences last season, Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry) emerged as the top staying hurdler. He started the campaign at Newbury with a six-length victory in the Long Distance Hurdle and went on to G1 triumphs at Ascot and Punchestown, with his only defeat coming when third behind Nichols Canyon in the G1 Stayers' Hurdle.
Due to his G1 victories last season, Unowhatimeanharry will carry 6lb more than Thistlecrack on Friday, but has the advantage of race fitness having made a successful return in a conditions hurdle at Aintree on November 11, his tenth win in 11 starts since joining Harry Fry.
Colin's Sister and Wholestone, both novices last season, could be the up and comers in the race for the in-form stables of Fergal O'Brien and Nigel Twiston-Davies. The pair fought out the finish to the G2 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on November 4, when Colin's Sister won by two lengths.
The Ladbrokes Winter carnival continues on Saturday (December 2) with the newly names Ladbrokes Trophy taking over from the Hennessy Gold Cup.