We have all just had the most wonderful day with family and friends. A lot of tasty food, drink and great company but in racing terms for all punters, that was just the starter. We now have the most wonderful main course of quality National Hunt racing. Admittedly we have had to go three days without racing but this selection of Graded Races from Leopardstown, Kempton and Wetherby is something to savour and makes it all worthwhile.
1:15 Leopardstown (IRE) KNIGHT FRANK JUVENILE HURDLE (GRADE 2) (3yo) Winner €26,550 10 runners 2m Yielding
Mega Fortune might have got closer to Landofhopeandglory at Fairyhouse if he had been ridden more aggressively. He “got done for a turn of foot” as they rounded the bend and was gaining at the line but we don’t know if the winner might have just pulled out a bit more in a battle. Prospectus put up a strong figure first time over hurdles which was well above anything he produced in relative terms on the flat. You have to expect we have seen as good as he is and that shouldn’t be good enough.
Joseph O’Brien’s other runner Lord Justice was only 2 lengths behind the UK’s best Juvenile, Cliffs of Dover and this race will give us a good idea of where that forms figures in the Triumph Hurdle picture. Willie Mullins runs Bapaume again, who went down by a length to Landofhopeandglory and its possible the weight difference might reverse the order this time. It’s not very original but we think Landofhopeandglory might well be capable of defying the penalty and showing he is the real deal. He looks to be a horse who just does enough to win and will do so again today.
2 units win Landofhopeandglory
1:30 Kempton (A Novices´ Limited Handicap) Cl3 2m4f110y
This handicap is a tight one with just over a stone between the bottom and top weight. San Benedeto carries top weight and he was travelling in contention when he tipped up at Cheltenham last time. The question is, would he have won? If so then this mark looks well within his grasp. We suspect he might not have won. Sizing Tennessee doesn’t look quite good enough and Two Taffs has it to prove on his Chase debut but what an aggressive call by his trainer, Dan Skelton, to enter at this level for his debut. He could have found easier routes.
Two Taffs must be impressing at home. Gold Present’s win at Doncaster was very pleasing but we are not sure what he beat that day. Max Ward is interesting over this longer trip. It seems 2 miles was too sharp at Sandown so this could be the answer. Poker School is really interesting getting weight and his win last time out shows he is useful on his day. This is asking a lot more though, he might just be up to it if it’s a going day.
1 unit e/w Poker School
1:50 Wetherby Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase (Grade 3) Cl1 3m45y
What a good race this is. We are big fans of Blaklion, who never surrenders but he is having to carry top weight against a quality field, something that hasn’t been done in the history of this race.
We tipped up Yala Enki last week to win and the 10lb rise doesn’t seem unreasonable for that victory at Haydock, can he improve again? Wakanda is all but a pound from his previous winning mark and Sue Smith’s horses seem in fine fettle. Definitely Red was strongly backed to win last time out but the Newcastle fences didn’t seem to suit his eye. Don’t doubt his staying ability, determination or skill. If he gets in a rhythm he will take the world of beating.
The other contender is Henri Parry Morgan, whose first run this season wasn’t great but Peter Bowen could have him right now and he was just behind Native River back in April, form that looks pretty strong now. It’s a mouth-watering contest. We will wade in with the Brian Ellison horse in the hope that he gets his jumping right for this one. He just looks to be the best handicapped horse in the race.
1 unit e/w Definitely Red
2:05 Kempton Kauto Star Novices´ Chase (In Memory Of Nigel Clark) (Grade 1) Cl1 3m
Tea for Two was last year’s winner of this race and he features later in the King George, the year before the amazing Coneygree took the honours. It’s a good pointer to quality horses and this year’s renewal is no exception. Tony Martin brings Anibale Fly over to try 3 miles for the first time. His best performance was his latest one when stepped up to 20f so the extra distance could well help him improve him again. He looks a class act.
Johnny Farrelly’s Amore Alato has the benefit of a course and distance success, with his latest Sandown victory a career best, he put the well fancied Ballybolley to the sword that day. Present Man has now delivered 3 times in his last 4 runs and will enjoy the better ground, he didn’t seem to like Wincanton and that course shares a lot of similarities with Kempton.
From the same stable Frodon was mighty impressive when winning last time out at Cheltenham and the way he finished suggests the step up to 3 miles will be ideal. Presumably Harry Skelton had first choice of his brothers two entries and he rides Virgilio who was a solid 2nd at Newbury last time out recording a career best over a trip 4 furlongs short of this one and he looks primed for this event. Tom Scudamore rides his stable mate Churchtown Champ who did nothing wrong when winning by 10 lengths at Southwell and he would be no back number either, with the 3 mile journey no problem for him.
The same can be said for Peter Bowen’s Minella Daddy who was only just beaten by Regal Encore at Ascot last week in a good race, whereas Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite trounced them over 2 miles 3f at Doncaster and steps up for the first time. It’s such a good contest and probably the best of the day. We need two against the field in this race where jumping will be everything on this quicker ground.
1 unit e/w Amore Alato
1 unit e/w Virgilio
2:20 Leopardstown (IRE) RACING POST NOVICE CHASE (GRADE 1) (4yo+) Winner €53,100 7 runners 2m1f
At the 2 mile distance, Ireland puts on a race that will give us some Arkle clues with top novice chasers turning out in this Grade 1. Identity Thief ran some big figures when hurdling and has not been overly extended in his two wins over fences, today he will be. Min, makes a much awaited return after hacking up at Navan in just his sole chase so far. Ordinary World pushed Identity Thief all the way but class won out in the end and punters would be disappointed if placings were reversed this time. It should be all about the first two in the betting and though much is expected of Min, against the odds, we will side with Identity Thief.
2 units win Identity Thief
2:40 Kempton Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1) Cl1 2m
Just the five line up here and in reality, only four with a chance but they do all have a realistic chance. The New One put away My Tent of Yours with disdain at Cheltenham but it’s possible that the Henderson horse needed two runs to be at his best and he may be just that now. If so we could see a repeat of last year’s race where he proved too quick on this speed demanding course for the New One.
Ch’Tibello for Dan Skleton has run well the last twice and was good when beating Melodic Rendezvous at Haydock but he has to improve about a stone and whilst he is unexposed at this level, that is asking a lot in just over a month. He was however only just over a length behind Altior on good ground last year so there might be more improvement to come on better ground, which he gets today.
Yanworth is the one they are all excited about and he looks like going off as favourite but we just wonder if he isn’t at his best over further and that if he doesn’t make the pace will he be able to accelerate at the end of the race. If he can dictate a strong pace they might struggle to get past but 9/4 seems short against quality opposition. It’s an intriguing contest and one that it is hard to be too dogmatic about. If it’s about a “turn of foot” then we want to be with the Henderson horse whose forecast 10/1 just looks too big and great value. He travelled beautifully at Cheltenham and the combination of his second run and the slow ground just took its toll.
2 units win My Tent or Yours
3:15 Kempton King George VI Chase (Grade 1) Cl1 3m CH4
Five horses line-up in this Boxing day treat, as few as we can remember and as far as experts and bookies are concerned it’s a two horse race. Those two horses are the exciting novice Thistelcrack, who has the most amazing engine and is undefeated as a novice and the extraordinary Cue Card who simply gets better, jumps better and seems to put such pressure on his rivals with his accurate and quick jumping. We have nothing but admiration for Colin Tizzard for entering both horses. As strong as the credentials of those two appear, to accept the two horse argument is to ignore Silviniaco Conti, a two time winner, who is so good at his best and the question is, can master trainer Paul Nichols rekindle that enthusiasm and speed and pull off a surprise.
Josses Hill who seems to be better than ever this year and at 8 years of age is still on the improve and the admirable Tea for Two who is a year younger and the apple of trainer Nick Williams eye, represent the youth angle in the race. The King George demands the very best of staying chasers. You need to stay to win this race but you have to be able to jump quickly and accurately as well.
Many a favourite has come unstuck in the last 4 fences where both fatigue and the ditches take their toll. We understand the two horse theory but not necessarily who bookies have decided is the favourite. Yes, Thistlecrack has an enormous amount of potential but in his three victories there have been a number of mistakes and over-bold jumps. The paucity of the opposition (relative to his class) has resulted in him getting the job done so far, he cant take liberties at this track and against this opposition. This is a whole new ball game. Our fear is his jumping simply isn’t ready, yet, to compete at this level and whilst he is brave and talented we just don’t want to see him end up on the ground. For us, it’s Cue Card’s to lose and he has to be backed to maximum stakes.
5 units win Cue Card