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  1. Horse Racing

Weekend Racing Preview: Nicholls looks for more Challow success

Lingfield, Newbury, and Warwick all feature on ITV Racing on Saturday, with the Challow Novices' Hurdle from Newbury being the highlight of the afternoon. 

The 2m4½f novice hurdle contest is the final Grade 1 race of the calendar year in the UK. 

On Sunday, Cheltenham kick the year off with the traditional New Year's Day card, Musselburgh stage their Hogmaneigh meeting, while in Ireland, Tramore's Savills New Year's Day Chase is the feature.

Hermes Allen bids to help Nicholls end year on high

It has been an excellent start to the 2022/23 season for champion trainer Paul Nicholls. He celebrated success on Boxing Day with a record-extending 13th victory in the King George VI Chase at Kempton with Bravemansgame. 

The Ditcheat trainer could be set for more Grade 1 glory before 2022 is over, as Hermes Allen is the warm 10/11 favourite for the Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.

The five-year-old has won both of his starts over hurdles so far. His latest triumph came at Cheltenham's November Meeting when he won the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle by an impressive nine-lengths. He made all in that contest, setting a pace that forced mistakes from many of his rivals. The talented hurdler will now be bidding for a victory at the highest level.

With six races under Rules, Joyeux Machin is one of the most experienced runners in this field. The Irish-based horse got off the mark over hurdles in an 18-runner maiden at Fairyhouse earlier this month. He is 7/1 to give trainer Paul Nolan a major win in the UK.

Nicky Henderson is represented in the Newbury feature by Attacca (9/1). The Seven Barrows runner has a 100 per-cent record over hurdles, with his latest success coming at the International Meeting at Cheltenham.

Elsewhere on the card at Newbury, Harry Fry's mare Lady Adare (6/1) is bidding for her fourth straight win over hurdles when she lines up in a Class 2 handicap at 1.50. 

She takes on 6/4 Pikar from Dan Skelton's yard. The Lodge Hill runner looked a smart prospect when he prevailed on his last outing at Chepstow by five-lengths.

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Monmiral headlines Dipper line-up

The Dipper Novices' Chase is the first of two Grade 2 races at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Monmiral (11/8) chased home Arkle favourite Jonbon on his opening appearance over fences. His connections will be hoping he can go one place better this time around.

Olly Murphy's gelding Thunder Rock (15/8) is the highest-rated runner in the field at Prestbury Park. He has won on both of his appearances over fences in handicap company and he now has an official rating of 150.

Beauport is another strong challenger in this race over the extended 2m4f trip. He won the Listed Colin Parker Memorial at Carlisle on his chase debut, finishing ahead of Millers Bank. The six-year-old then had to settle for second place behind Ballygrifincottage at Haydock.

The Relkeel Hurdle at 2.30 at Cheltenham sees Mares' Hurdle winner Marie's Rock (11/4) return to action. With her mares' allowance, she will be receiving weight from all nine rivals in the Grade 2 contest over 2m4½f.

Greatwood Handicap Hurdle winner I Like To Move (4/1) It returns to action at the same course he prevailed at during the November Meeting. He is now stepping up in distance in the Grade 2 contest as he bids for more success at this level.

Nicholls and Henderson are represented by 4/1 Knappers Hill and 5/1 First Street respectively, two horses that both prevailed last time out.

Stattler bound for Tramore on Sunday

Willie Mullins has had an outstanding week at Leopardstown at the Christmas Festival, and his form could continue into the New Year. He is set to saddle Stattler in the Savills New Year's Day Chase at Tramore, a race he has had a lot of success in during the past.

The 158-rated chaser has won all three of his assignments over fences, with the pick of those victories being his triumph at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival in the National Hunt Chase. His stamina held up firmly as he defeated Run Wild Fred by eight-lengths in that race.

Grand National runner-up Any Second Now makes his return to action for the season for Ted Walsh. The 10-year-old was just over two-lengths behind Noble Yeats at Aintree back in April. That was the second consecutive year that he finished in the frame in the world's most famous steeplechase.

Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo is also scheduled to make his opening appearance of the campaign at Tramore for Henry De Bromhead.

He finished second behind his stablemate A Plus Tard in the Blue Riband event at the Cheltenham Festival last March. However, he needs to bounce back from a disappointing run at the Punchestown Festival where he was pulled up by Robbie Power subsequently. 

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