There certainly hasn't been any shortage of sporting entertainment during 2012 and there have been a host of notable performances in the world of national hunt racing. Synchronised's famous win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was soured just a month later by his tragic bid for success at the Grand National, although there have been plenty of highlights for punters during the year and Betting-Directory have come up with their top-five from the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals.....
1. Big Buck's wins the World HurdleThere is very little left to say about Paul Nicholls' brilliant Big Buck's as the 9-year-old has exhibited all of his class during a 2012 campaign that has seen him hit quite exhilarating heights. He began by comfortably beating Dynaste in the Cleeve Hurdle and a sign of how good that win was is highlighted by the fact that Dynaste is now favourite for the 2013 RSA Chase.
Big Buck's followed that up with an unprecedented fourth straight win in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival as he held off the brave challenge of Voler la Vedette. He has since won the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree and he made it 18 consecutive wins when landing the Long Distance Hurdle on his reappearance this season. The 2012 campaign has been soured by the news that Big Buck's is almost certain to miss his World Hurdle defence and is unlikely to be seen again this season as Nicholls' star was found to be injured recently.
2. Sprinter Sacre wins the Arkle Trophy
Nicky Henderson's French import confirmed himself as one of the most exciting chasers in the country when sealing a mightily impressive victory in the Arkle. The 6-year-old was in a league of his own as he shone on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival with a brilliant jumping performance. He romped up the hill to leaves the likes of Cue Card, Al Ferof and Menorah trailing in his wake, while Cue Card has franked that form with victory in the Haldon Gold Cup on his seasonal reappearance.
Sprinter Sacre showed that his Arkle success was no fluke when following up with a 13-length victory in the Maghull Novices at Aintree, while he was a 15-length winner of the Tingle Creek on his reappearance this term to ensure he is now six from six over fences.
3. Hunt Ball wins the Pulteney Land Investment Novices
Hunt Ball is one of the more romantic stories in national hunt racing and Keiran Burke's much-improved stable star is a tale of rags to riches. The 7-year-old had started 2012 rated 102 but has risen to 157 after four wins this year, including victory at Cheltenham Festival.
He carried a hefty 12st to victory in the Pulteney Land Investment Novices to justify 13/2 favouritism and that victory alone was one of the highlights of the meeting. Hunt Ball has been talked about as a potential 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, although that was put into perspective when he was pulled up on unsuitable ground in the PaddyPower Gold Cup recently and he could next take his chance in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
4. Finian's Rainbow wins the Queen Mother Champion Chase
For sheer drama and excitement the 2012 renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase takes some beating. Finian's Rainbow got the better of an enthralling clash with Sizing Europe but it was a victory that certainly wasn't short of controversy as the pair were neck and neck at the second last fence before they were forced to bypass the last and it was a move that cause Sizing Europe to lose crucial momentum. Finian's Rainbow went on to win the two mile contest by 1¼ lengths but it was a race that will be talked about for years to come.
Nicky Henderson's 9-year-old confirmed his class when following up with a seven-length win in the Melling Chase at Aintree, although his seasonal reappearance this term saw him finish last of four on heavy ground in the Amlin Chase at Ascot.
5. Simonsig wins the Mersey Novices Hurdle
The Grand National Meeting was unfortunately overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the feature race after Synchronised and According To Pete lost their lives. The racing did at least provide some talking points though and Simonsig's victory in the Grade Two Mersey Novices was a real eye-catcher.
Simonsig had won the Neptune Novices at Cheltenham when 2/1 favourite the month before as he took advantage of Cotton Mill's refusal at the second last before cruising up on the outside. The exciting grey confirmed his class when securing a 15-length win at Aintree that ensured Nicky Henderson's star won three from three for the season. He was the best novice hurdler around last season and the 2013 Arkle favourite is set to make his chase debut in a potential clash with Overturn at Ascot on Friday.
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