Friday sees the point of the year when the National Hunt action really gets going with the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow taking centre stage. As is the norm, this time of the season is all about expectation, with the racing fraternity eager to see how the campaign is going to unfold.

 If the 2019/20 season is anything to go by, then we’ll be in for quite a few months, and here is our preview of the subplots we think might be worth keeping an eye out for.

Can Johnson become Champion Jockey for a fifth time? 

Having finished runner-up to AP McCoy 16 times, Richard Johnson realised the dream of any jockey by winning the Champion Jockey title in 2016. The Englishman wasn’t done there, though, as he reeled off a further three championship wins and he was the strong favourite to win it for a fifth time last year. However, he was to be denied as fellow brit Brian Hughes became the latest man to etch his name on the trophy.

Those two look set to battle it out for the title this campaign, with Hughes the 4/9 favourite and Johnson 5/2 to reclaim the title. At the time of writing, Hughes holds a 10-win lead at the head of affairs and given he’s operating at a better strike rate than his counterpart, Johnson could have his work cut out. As things stand, Hughes has ridden the same number of winners of Paddy Brennan, who is 25/1 to win his first title, while Harry Cobden, stable jockey to all-conquering Paul Nicholls, is 6/1.

Nicholls and Henderson to fight it out for trainers’ title

Given they have won the last 15 titles between them, it’s pretty obvious the race to be Champion Trainer will once again be fought out between Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. Seven Barrows handler Henderson has won the trophy in three of the last four seasons and he’s 8/11 to reign supreme again. It’s not hard to see why with the likes of Champion Hurdle winner Epatante, stable star Altior, as well as the returning Buveur d’Air amongst the plethora of talent Henderson has in his yard.

Nicholls won’t lie down easily, though, with the 58-year-old putting together a formidable team of his own at his Ditcheat stable in Somerset. Among the big guns that Nicholls has at his disposal this season are Cyrname – once rated the highest rated horse in the world, while he’ll also be looking forward to the return of Topofthegame. The eight-year-old missed the whole of last season with an injury but he’s back with a tilt at the Gold Cup, for which he’s 12/1, on the agenda.

The Irish challenge

As we all know the strength of racing in Ireland is about as strong as it’s ever been, with Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott paving the way. The pair, once again, boast a plethora of stars for the upcoming season and as always it will be fascinating to see where their seasonal targets lie.

One of the horses everyone is looking forward to seeing is the unbeaten Envoi Allen, trained by Elliott, who based on what we’ve seen so far, could go right to the top. The classy sort is currently 5/1 for the RSA at Cheltenham, while he’s just 2/1 to win any race at the Festival. Another horse to look out for is Samcro, who fought out one of the finishes of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival in the Marsh. He’s 10/1 to win any race at the Festival in March.

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