All eyes on 2024 for Venetia Williams
As the days get chillier and the nights draw in, horse racing makes its annual switch from the Flat to National Hunt action.
Six months or so of top-class racing over obstacles awaits, with a handful of prestigious renewals to come prior to the end of the calendar year.
But it’s from January to the end of April where many of the most prized renewals in jumps racing are contested, so it’s that period that the top trainers – including Venetia Williams – will be preparing their horses for.
Eyes on the prize
In greyhound racing, the one that they all want to win is the Derby, so trainers will be preparing their dogs for an assault on the big prize months in advance of the qualifiers and trials.
The betting community will also be plotting their wagers too, as they can find the latest greyhound odds for the Derby as early as a year prior to the race being run – in the autumn of 2023, the likes of Links Maverick (16/1), De Lahdedah (20/1) and Ballinakil Alf (25/1) are considered the ante-post favourites ahead of the July showpiece.
There’s a similar concept in horse racing, with ante post odds published months ahead of time of the biggest races on the calendar. And it’s those prices which reveal that L’Homme Presse is considered to be one of the most likely contenders to dethrone Galopin Des Champs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Venetia Williams’ horse has shown tremendous potential over fences, which reveals why he was one of the most hotly-anticipated National Hunt horses to watch in 2022/23.
Unfortunately, injury would put paid to hopes of success at the major festivals earlier this year, so redemption will be in the minds of Williams and her team as they plot their way to the Cheltenham Festival in 2024.
The eight-year-old has already won twice at Prestbury Park – a ten-length demolition of the field in the Dipper Novices’ Chase and a comfortable triumph at the Festival in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
An attempt at the King George VI Chase – an excellent primer for the Gold Cup – ended with jockey Charlie Deutsch being unceremoniously dumped on the turf at the last fence, before injury struck.
Can Williams get L’Homme Presse back to his best for 2024?
Two to follow
The Gold Cup contender will not be the only Cheltenham Festival entrant up Venetia’s sleeve.
One, or both, of Royale Pagaille and Funambule Sivola are also likely to head to Prestbury Park for the March extravaganza. The former was entered into the Gold Cup in 2023 – a run that yielded a mid-division finish, but second place in the King George VI Chase confirms that the ten-year-old still has plenty left to offer.
As for Funambule Sivola, this is a horse that is frustratingly inconsistent but one with a high-performance ceiling – a win in the Game Spirit Chase back in February is proof of that.
Something of a rarity in National Hunt racing, Funambule Sivola seems to prefer fast ground – three of his last four wins have come on good going, so Venetia and the horse’s connections will be hoping for a spell of warm weather ahead of 2024’s blue riband races, a condition that seems in short supply after this wet October.