What better way of scattering the sanctimonious demons of New Year's Day - all that bleary contrition, all those chaste pledges - than a blustery afternoon at Cheltenham races? This must be a far more candid affair: a few bets, a gale scouring the hills, and brave endeavour in man and beast.
Of course, you could just slump in front of the television instead, with Channel 4 also planning brief visits to Catterick and, a dawn inspection permitting, Exeter. Conditions are too punishing at Cheltenham for connections to risk Black Jack Ketchum, who had been scheduled to bring his unbeaten record into the Steel Plate and Sections Hurdle. He remains 4-5 favourite with the sponsor for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival in March.
A gallant third in that race last year was Mighty Man, even though he had managed to get himself beaten here en route by The French Furze, given a brilliant ride from the front by Brian Harding. For administrative purposes, today is the birthday of every registered thoroughbred, and there can be few more sprightly 13-year-olds in training than The French Furze. His regular cameo in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle - placed in the race for the sixth time - suggests he can scarcely be dismissed this time, either.
In contrast Flight Leader (3.25) is having just his fourth race over obstacles. He produced a fine performance here last time, running eagerly up the hill from a strong field of novices. His penalty demands still more improvement, but he remains much the least exposed runner, Temoin having set a career best in a slowly run race last time.
The winner of the World Hurdle, My Way De Solzen, returns today for his third start over fences, having impressed at Lingfield before struggling to keep step with that tearaway, Fair Along, at Sandown.
My Way De Solzen (1.40) was conceding 9lb that day, and seems sure to be suited by the return to longer distances in the Aquanti Dipper Novices' Chase. If he is also likely to be more at home back over a left-handed course, the same is admittedly true of Turko, whose record over fences is so far unblemished. The Listener counted Star De Mohaison among his victims last year, and the presence of Miko De Beauchene would again guarantee one of the most significant novice chases of the season - though he has a prior engagement at Exeter, assuming that card goes ahead.
My Way De Solzen, Turko and Miko De Beauchene emphasise the French flavour of British steeplechasing nowadays and another interesting import, Nozic, will be fancied for the Unicoin Homes Handicap Chase after an excellent debut at Chepstow last week. But he has had very little time to get over that effort, and preference is for Too Forward (next best 2.15). He was foiled only by Fondmort, who was practically invincible round here, in the same race last year.
True, he has gone up 9lb since, but he ran off a higher mark still when second to Our Vic here in the spring, and still looks feasibly treated on his reappearance success at Wetherby.
Freetown (2.50) has always loved it round here and pulled the winner clear of the pack on his most recent visit. He sets the standard for Ladalko, whose trainer has finally despaired of his errors over fences, and the only caveat is the mysterious absence of blinkers this time.
In both the other televised races, the most interesting runner was in action only on Boxing Day. But Moyne Pleasure (2.35 Catterick) was not given an unnecessarily hard time on his reappearance at Market Rasen, and Chopneyev (1.50 Exeter) simply has to strike while the iron is hot. He plainly remains well treated under a penalty for his impressive return to form at Hereford before Christmas, and his saddle slipped when he tried to take advantage at Towcester.
Nap: King Daniel (Catterick 12.50)
NB: Too Forward (Cheltenham 2.15)