With the temperatures plummeting and the nights drawing in, Britain is once again faced with the inevitable onset of winter. At this time of year, many opt to bunker down until the spring, however racing fans are not among them. For those with the Sport of Kings coursing through their veins, there really is no better time of year.
The glamour of the Flat racing season, with its prestigious sprints and society functions, has a most definite and worthy appeal. But in terms of pure sporting spectacle, there's nothing quite comparable to National Hunt. It is a treat in itself to see brave horses and jockeys slog it out over jumps, often in difficult conditions, even before you consider the inherent unpredictability of the sport.
From the nailed-on favourite who falls at the last, to the 100-1 outsider who romps home on heavy ground, steeplechasing is full of thrills, spills and surprises. It also boasts some of the nation's best loved and longest established annual sports events, those which transcend racing through their mainstream appeal.
The Grand National is the obvious starting point. That old lottery of a handicap has been a fixture on the British sporting calendar since 1839 and is, rather unsurprisingly, Europe's most valuable jump race. Few events across any sport can attract the viewing figures achieved by Aintree's flagship race, which immortalised Red Rum, Foinavon and Devon Loch to name but a few.
Still, there's a long, hard winter to negotiate before the National Hunt season reaches its near-climax in Liverpool, or its focal point of the Cheltenham Festival in March. More to the point, there are some superb races to contest along the way.
The action begins in November with the big-money BetVictor Gold Cup, the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Betfair Chase at Haydock. The latter is the inaugural Grade One event of the season, and as such, a first look at some of the potential Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders. Then there's the Boxing Day staple of the King George VI Chase at Kempton, a festive three-mile trip much-loved by Desert Orchid and Kauto Star.
Once the new year arrives all eyes are on Cheltenham, where The World Hurdle, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Gold Cup are up for grabs. As the undoubted highlight of the season, the festival is the main target for the fastest horses over jumps. The Grand National may create sporting folklore, but the Gold Cup is where great horses become legendary ones.
With Aintree and the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park still to look forward, the National Hunt action continues up to mid-April. By this time, the sun has re-emerged from the shadows and the ground should be firming up. Only then can the horses and jump jockeys retire for a well-earned break... while our attention turns to Epsom and Ascot.
Sportsworld offers hospitality packages to the top National Hunt meetings, including the spectacular Cheltenham Festival. To make your booking, and secure your place at this world-class sporting event, call 0208 971 2966 today.