Christmas is a wonderful time of the year for a whole host of reasons, and the bounty of National Hunt racing that takes over the festive period is one such perk.
Naturally, the King George VI Chase, the Christmas Hurdle and the Welsh Grand National take centre-stage for Yuletide punters, but there is plenty to recommend the Long Walk Hurdle for anyone fancying a flutter this Saturday.
Forming part of Ascot’s excellent Christmas festival of racing, the Long Walk Hurdle is a three-mile expedition that has this year been renamed to honour the legacy of Reve De Sivola, the three-time winner of this race who sadly died just the other week.
The fantastically-named uknowwhatimeanharry is looking to win his second consecutive Long Walk Hurdle, and the good news for Harry Fry and his connections is that this is a race with a history of creating multiple-time winners. Since the year 2000 alone there has been three repeat champions in Baracouda (2000-01 & 2003-04), Big Buck’s (2009-11) and of course Reve De Sivola (2012-14), so the omens are good.
It’s perhaps no surprise the nine-year-old, one of the premier long-distance runners in the land, has been installed as the 7/4 favourite by the bookmakers. So will he provide some pre-Christmas joy, or can an outsider take the spoils and spread some festive cheer?
Champion Pedigree Sets ‘Arry Apart
When analysing high-profile Grade 1 affairs like this out interest is naturally piqued by those who are proven in performing well amongst quality company.
On that front uknowwhatimeanharry has an excellent pedigree. The reigning Long Walk champion also powered to victory in the Long Distance Hurdle and Cleeve Hurdle last season, and was a strong third in the Stayers’ Hurdle back in March.
#uknowwhatimeanharry gets the job done. The improvement that horse has made is incredible ?
— Ciaran Neary (@CiaranNeary) April 27, 2017
His seasonal return at Aintree was impressive enough with the nine-year-old besting the talented Top Notch, although his second outing this term saw a shock defeat to the 40/1 Beer Goggles at Newbury, who also overcame the advances of Thistlecrack to claim the most unlikely of victories.
That’s a grey mark against ‘Arry’s name, of course, but truly there are few long-haul horses who can boast a set of lungs quite like this lad. He’s got the big race pedigree too, and with the Long Walk creating a number of repeat winners over the years punters can have faith that this is a worthy favourite in which to invest.
American Racing to Be Made Great Again?
Plenty of money will follow in the coming days for L’Ami Serge, an eye-catching jumper with plenty to offer. But with just six wins in 25 starts, are you going to part with your hard-earned just prior to that last minute shopping dash to the all-night petrol station on Christmas Eve?
We’re far more interested in Lil Rockerfeller (4/1), a fairly inconspicuous performer but one with some fine form at Ascot to his name.
A so-so seasonal return at Wetherby was blown out of the water by victory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot back in November, where the six-year-old gamely held off the challenge of L’Ami Serge.
That follows in a long lineage of decent performances on this track. He was second to uknowwhatimeanharry in this very renewal 12 months ago, and that came a matter of weeks after another runners-up finish in the Coral Hurdle.
Other than a brilliant second in last season’s Stayers’ Hurdle, Lil Rockerfeller’s best work tends to come on the soft ground of Ascot, and given his recent form there is no reason why he won’t finish in the places on Saturday.