Janika could return to action at Exeter next month, 12 months after his sparkling victory in the Haldon Gold Cup.
As the flat racing season begins to wind down, jumps racing fans will have their eyes fixed on courses like Aintree, Wincanton and Wetherby, all of whom stage prestigious early-season races.
One of the most important races during the first half of the season is the Haldon Gold Cup, held here in Exeter. Haldon Gold Cup day is Devon's premier race meeting, and viewers can expect another thrilling renewal of this Grade Two Limited Handicap
The 2019 edition of the Haldon Gold Cup was won by Janika, who defeated Dolos, Destrier and Lalor under top-weight in hugely impressive fashion.
That victory was a long-time coming for Nicky Henderson. Britain’s Champion Trainer hadn't tasted victory at Exeter since Travado’s hat-trick of Haldon Gold Cup wins between 1993 and 1995.
Surprisingly, Janika failed to build on his Haldon Gold Cup triumph last season. Henderson’s chaser was beaten in the Tingle Creek, the Clarence House Chase and the Ascot Chase, while also finishing fourth in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Those defeats helped Janika’s official rating drop back to 162, the same rating he carried with him to Exeter in 2019. Given how well he performed here last season, and Nicky Henderson’s strong record in the race, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Janika attempt to retain his Haldon Gold Cup crown in November.
The Haldon Gold Cup has been the starting point for legendary horses like Edredon Bleu, Cue Card and Best Mate down the years. Many of the horses who take part in this year’s race could feature in Cheltenham Festival tips later in the campaign, and several trainers will be pointing their best chasers at Exeter when the new National Hunt season commences.
Paul Nicholls is the most successful trainer in Haldon Gold Cup history. The last of Nicholls’ six wins at Exeter came three years ago, when future Champion Chaser, Politologue got his season off to a winning start.
Nicholls could send last year’s runner-up, Dolos back to Exeter. The Haldon Gold Cup could also be an ideal starting point for Dynamite Dollars, who was last seen placing second behind stablemate Politologue in the Queen Mother at Cheltenham.
Tom George has won three of the last six Haldon Gold Cups, twice winning the race with dual-Grade One winner, God’s Own. God’s Own may no longer be available after his retirement last season, but George could turn to Bun Doran, who was last seen finishing a surprise third in the Champion Chase.
Other names to look out for when the entries for the 2020 Haldon Gold Cup are revealed include Rouge Vif, who won the Kingmaker during a successful novice campaign in 2019/20. Itchy feet handed young trainer Olly Murphy his first Grade One win last season, and he would gain weight from Janika, should he make his Exeter debut next month.