Ascot Christmas Raceday

December is a very busy month for racing. Amongst the highlights is Ascot’s most lucrative day of National Hunt racing which takes place on the Saturday before Christmas. This is the second of two consecutive Christmas racedays at the Berkshire track with the first held on the Friday.

One of the stars of the show on Saturday is the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, named the JLT Hurdle, a high class affair for stayers over the smaller obstacles.

The Silver Cup Handicap is also among the pick of the action from Ascot on Saturday. The three mile chase takes in 19 fences and has a prize pot of £100,000.

Racing for the year at Ascot is brought to a conclusion in style with the most valuable race of the day in the form the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle. The two mile race was awarded Grade 3 status in 2013 and has £150,000 on the line for those taking part.

Please Note: Betting tips for the Christmas Raceday from Ascot will be posted in the days before the 2020 fixture takes place.

 

About Ascot's Christmas Meeting

When Christmas rolls around, it might not be on the top of your list to head off to a racetrack and watch some horses galloping around the course. Yet when you think about it, racing can make a perfect pre-festive activity. That’s to say nothing of the manner in which racecourses have free reign to decorate themselves to look as magical as possible.

The jump racing season is doing the opposite of the weather and warming up by the time December rolls around. Now you might not automatically associate Ascot with jump racing, but the traditionally flat racing venue has a number of meetings during the National Hunt season to give you cause to pop along. That it’s so far away from Royal Ascot in terms of time means that there’s also plenty of flexibility for them to reduce the pageantry and officialdom that’s generally thought of as being the standard for Ascot.

Two Christmas Racedays & Celebrations

The Christmas meeting at Ascot is based over two days, with the Friday typically being filled with people enjoying their office Christmas parties who mix with more serious racing-types. The Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle and the Noel Novices’ Chase are the standout races on the first day, whilst the Betfair Exchange Trophy and the Grade 1 JLT Hurdle Race are the main features to watch out for on the Saturday.

Friday

Though the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle and the Noel Novices’ Chase are the key races of the day, they aren’t the only ones to keep an eye out for. Grab a winter drink or some food from the festive menu at stalls around the course and get ready to watch some brilliant jump racing.

Saturday

If Friday is a day for office workers in the Christmas party mode then Saturday is all about families. Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas can be seen wandering the grounds, whilst carol concerts and a fairground are also to be found. Kids enter free, so don’t be surprised to see more than few young racegoers in the crowd.

The two most expensive jump races on the Ascot calendar are raced on the Saturday in the form of the Betfair Exchange Trophy and the JLT Hurdle Race.

Ascot Christmas Meeting Full Race List

Here’s a look at the race card for the two days as it was in 2018. It’s worth bearing in mind that racetracks constantly tweak and change their programme in order to make things as exciting as possible, so the fact that this was how things looked in 2018 doesn’t mean it will stay unchanged. Nevertheless, it will give you a good idea of the sort of races you can expect to watch.

RacePrize MoneyAgesObstacles
Day One – Friday Christmas Raceday
Maiden Hurdle £12,400 4 Years Old + 10 Hurdles
Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase £16,800 4 Years Old + 13 fences
Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle £35,000 4 Years Old + 8 hurdles
Noel Novices’ Chase £35,000 4 Year Old + 17 fences
Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle £11,800 4 Years Old + 10 hurdles
Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race £30,000 4-6 Years Old None
Day Two – Saturday Christmas Raceday
Novices’ Handicap Hurdle £11,800 4 Years Old + 11 hurdles
Graduation Chase £50,000 4 Years Old + 17 fences
Handicap Chase £35,000 4 Years Old + 16 fences
JLT (Long Walk) Hurdle £100,000 4 Years Old + 12 hurdles
Silver Cup Handicap Chase £100,000 4 Years Old + 20 fences
Betfair Trophy Handicap Hurdle £150,000 4 Year Old + 8 hurdles

The Standout Races in Detail

Knowing how the two days tend to run and which races can be seen when is one thing, but if you’re planning on either attending the event or else placing some bets then it’s always good to know about the key races. Here’s a look at the standout ones from the Christmas weekend.

Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle

This race, registered as the Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle, is run over one mile, seven furlongs and one hundred and fifty-two yards and there are eight hurdles that need to be negotiated during that time. Here’s the weight information:

  • Weight: 11 stone 0 pounds
  • Fillies and mares receive a 7 pound allowance
  • Winners of Class 1 weight-for-age hurdle races are given a 5 pound penalty
  • Winners of Class 2 weight-for-age hurdle races and Class 1 handicap hurdle races are given a 3 pound penalty

This Grade 2 race was inaugurated in 1994 and was run at Windsor in 2004 when Ascot was being redeveloped. It was also abandoned in 2009 and 2010 because of snow and frost respectively.

The fact that it’s a race for novices means that it’s obviously never been won by the same horse more than once, but the same can’t be said about jockeys. Nico de Boinville and Thierry Doumen have both won it twice and Tony McCoy won it three times, but they all train behind Barry Geraghty who won it four times between 2011 and 2015.

When Thierry Doumen won the race two years running in 2000 and 2001 he did so on a horse trained by his father, François Doumen. Alan King and Martin Pipe have also won the race twice apiece, whilst Paul Nichols has three wins to his name. As with any event that can be seen as a hint towards the Cheltenham Festival, however, it’s Nicky Henderson that leads the way with six wins between 1998 and 2018.

The two standout horses in the race’s history are Call Equiname and Make A Stand. The former went on to win the Clarence House Chase at Ascot four years after winning this one, adding the Queen Mother Champion Chase later in the same season. Make A Stand, meanwhile, won this in 1996 and then the Lanzarote Hurdle, the Tote Gold Trophy and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham the year after.

Noel Novices' Chase

Inaugurated as the Peter Cox Novices' Chase, the Noel Novices’ Chase is a Grade 2 offering that took on its present title in 1989 and was originally run over two miles and three furlongs. It received its current length of two miles, five furlongs and eight yards in 2015.

There are seventeen fences that must be jumped during the running, which is perhaps why it’s seen as more of an indication of a horse’s ability than other races run on the Friday. Remittance Man won it 1990, for example, and then went on to be successful in the likes of the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Melling Chase in the years that followed.

Likewise, Simonsig won this in 2012, with the victory coming during a strong year for him in which he also won the likes of the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. The only notable race that he won in 2013 was the Arkle Challenge Trophy, but it might be worth bearing in mind the winner of this race when you come to watch the Festival in March.

In terms of jockeys that have won the race, Sam Twiston-Davies has three wins to his name and Tony McCoy four, but it’s Richard Dunwoody who reigns supreme thanks to his five wins between 1989 and 1998. Things aren’t quite as clear cut for the most successful jockeys in the race, with Paul Nicholls. Nicky Henderson and Martin Pipe all managing three wins apiece at the time of writing.

Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle

A Grade 3, the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle is for horses aged four and up. Run over a distance of around one mile, seven furlongs and one hundred and fifty-two yards and features eight hurdles. The handicap race was run for the first time in 2001 in the UK, having been The Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle and run at the Leopardstown track in Ireland before that.

That race actually continued under a different race, but is now known as the Ladbrokes Hurdle. The Ascot race was given Grade 3 status in 2013 and took on a new title in 2016 at which point it became known as the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle. It has been run under the title of the Befair Exchange Trophy since 2018.

A number of jockeys have won the race more than once but none have won it more than twice at the time of writing. The likes of Harry Skelton, Davy Condon and Norman Williamson are the ones that have had their name on the trophy twice. Both of Harry Skelton’s wins came on horses trained by Dan Skelton, with Gordon Elliott and Martin Pipe also winning it twice. As with so many jump races, it’s Nicky Henderson whose name has been on the winning slip more times than any other trainer, though.

JLT Long Walk Hurdle

Officially registered as the Long Walk Hurdle but known as the JLT Hurdle for sponsorship reason, this Grade 1 race is run over three miles and ninety-seven yards. It’s open to horses aged four and over and it features twelve hurdles. Run right-handed, the weight for the race is eleven stone and seven pounds, though mares are given an allowance of seven pounds.

Named after an avenue of trees in Windsor’s Great Park that is known as ‘The Long Walk’, the race got its debut in 1965 when it was a handicap offering. It was made into a Conditions race in 1971 and eventually achieved Grade 1 status in 1990. The distance was three miles and one and a half furlongs until Ascot was redeveloped in the mid-2000s.

In terms of races to watch out for, it’s worth bearing in mind that six horses have won this race before going on to achieve success in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham later in the season. Derring Rose, Baracouda, My Way de Solzen, Big Buck’s, Thistlecrack and Paisley Park are all the ones that pulled it off. With that in mind, it’s worth thinking of this race as something of a test for the World Hurdle, which is also known as the Stayers’ Hurdle when it’s run during the Festival.

Big Buck’s and Reve De Sivola both won the race three times apiece, but the most successful horse is unquestionably Baracouda. He won it for the first time in 2000 and then proceeded to win it another three times in succession. Interestingly he was ridden by Thierry Doumen for the first three wins and then by Tony McCoy in the fourth race. Despite McCoy winning the race three times in total and matching Doumen’s record, it is Richard Johnson that has won this race more times than any other jockey.

Paul Nicholls, Nick Williams, Jenny Pitman and Fred Winter can all feel equally hard done to. They've won the race three times each as trainers but all miss out on the title of ‘best trainer’ in the even because of François Doumen’s success in training Baracouda to win it four times in a row in the early 2000s.

Ascot Silver Cup

Known as the Garrard Silver Cup because of sponsorship, the Ascot Silver Cup was first run in 1965. The Listed race is run over two miles, seven furlongs and one hundred and eighty yards, with twenty fences for the horses to negotiate during that. It’s open to horses aged four and over and is a handicap offering.

Known as the SGB Chase until 1992 because of sponsorship from Scaffolding Great Britain, it was given the title of the Betterware Cup between 1993 and 1996. It has had numerous sponsors since 1999 but has borne the title of the Silver Cup Handicap Chase since then.

Though the race no longer has the prestige of its more formative years, it has still seen some pretty special horses win it at one point or another. There is, perhaps, no greater example of that than the fact that the phenomenal Arkle won it in 1966. Despite that, Door Latch in 1985 and 1986 is the only horse to have won the race twice.

Both of those wins came under the guidance of Richard Rowe, who has been matched by the likes of Pat Taaffe, Norman Williamson and Nico de Boinville by getting their names on the trophy more than once. Even so it is Tony McCoy who sits out in front thanks to the three times he won the race during his career.

Things are not dissimilar when it comes to the trainers, with names such as Nigel Twiston-Davies, Paul Nicholls and Martin Pipe all seeing their charges win it on more than one occasion. Yet it’s that man Nicky Henderson who once again stands out in front of the crowd with the four wins he’s managed in it at the time of writing. He doesn’t have it all quite his own way, however, given that Josh Gifford also has four wins under his belt.

Championship Standard Open NH Flat Race

Turn up at Ascot and you’d almost be a little bit disappointed if you didn’t get to watch a flat race, even if you know it’s National Hunt season. The meeting duly obliges, though, thanks to the Championship Standard Open NH Flat Race. Run over one mile, seven furlongs and one hundred and fifty-two yards, it was a Grade 2 race before 2011.

Open to horses between the ages of four and six, it has never been won by the same horse more than once. A lot of horses that run in National Hunt flat races do so to gain experience of the big occasion before going on to run over jumps, with Shutthefrontdoor being a good example of a horse that did just that. He won this race in 2011 before going on to win the Irish Grand National in 2014.

The race was only inaugurated in 2001, yet that’s been long enough for Tom Scudamore to win the race twice and Barry Geraghty to win it three times. Jonjo O’Neill has notched up two wins as a trained, including one with Shutthefrontdoor. Yet it’s David Pipe that is the trainer supreme here, winning it three times between 2006 and 2018.