By John Doyle
It was a great year for the racing fan in 2017. The brilliance of Enable on the flat, the transformation of Sizing John into a brilliant Gold Cup winner were real highlights, but the undoubted top achievement of 2017 was the world record 28 Group 1 winners by the incomparable Aidan O’Brien.
2018 promises to be just as good and here we look at some of the tasty morsels we have to look forward to through the year.
Cheltenham Festival (March 13-16)
As ever early in the year, the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival dominates the early weeks of the year. The big bankers for 2018 are lining up on the first day.
Footpad has been imperious over fences in a couple of starts so far and will carry the hopes of many to get off to a flyer.
This horse was a good Hurdler but has taken it to a new level over the bigger obstacles. The Champion Hurdle is building up to be a showdown between 2015 and 2017 winners, Faugheen and Buveur D’Air.
This is a salivating clash as it is easy to argue for both contenders. This race has the makings of a great clash as Faugheen will try to run the finish out of his younger rival.
There will be great disappointment if one of these greats does not win a second Champion Hurdle.
To complete the day one stars, the super Mare, Apples Jade, will attempt to retain her Mares Hurdle from last season. This mare has improved again this season and will prove very hard to beat.
The second day sees the turn of supreme talking horse, Samcro, and Altior take to the stage.
Samcro has been super impressive in all his starts but the esteem in which he is held means he will be the ultimate banker for the 2018 Festival.
Altior is unbeaten over fences but has met a set back with his wind, so could potentially run for the first time this season at the Festival.
Aintree Grand National (12-14 April)
The 2018 Grand National is shaping up to be a shootout between the class horses in the race.
Blaklion is the clear favourite and will be back at Aintree to look to improve on last season’s place. In 2017, after jumping and travelling well, he went for home too early and was swamped close to home.
Ridden with more restraint in the Becher, he again jumped with relish and won easily. He will be hard to beat.
Native River could be a big danger if allowed to take his chance. This horse is a relentless galloper and could well be suited by the test.
Once we move to the middle of the year, the Flat stars will take over. The news that Enable remains in training is something to be excited about.
The incredible belief shown in this filly by Gosden and Dettori tells you all you need to know about how good she is. The same team have the exciting Cracksman too and will readily side with Enable.
Both of these horses will be real stars in 2018. On the Classic front, Clemmie is the undoubted star turn for the 1000 Guineas.
This filly is the first Galileo to win a Group 1 at 6 Furlongs and that itself should make her a tough nut to crack as she can be expected to improve for the extra distance for Royal Ascot, the expected arrival of Winx to take part in the Queen Anne will draw the crowds to Ascot.
This mare has been incredible in Australia and it will be great to see her strut her stuff here in 2018.