If Christmas is a time of excess, then that is reflected in racing too as 12 meetings take place in Britain and Ireland on St Stephen’s Day. The main focus of attention will be limited to Leopardstown and of course Kempton; where one of the sport’s most significant races plays out in the form of the King George VI Chase.
Last term Kauto Star was foiled in his attempt to win the race for a record fifth time by the exciting Long Run, who went on to confirm superiority when claiming the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Kauto’s future was then cast in doubt after he was pulled up in the Punchestown equivalent. After calls to retire the iconic horse, the owner’s faith was repaid as he stormed home to record a fourth Betfair Chase victory last month; gaining revenge over Long Run in the process and setting up another intriguing rematch.
Long Run’s supporters will point to the fact that Paul Nicholl’s stable star was trained for the race while Nicky Henderson’s charge is expected to come on for run. It’s hard to forget how impressive the six-year-old was last term, and despite his loss he retains favouritism around the 11/8 mark.
The pair will not have it all between them though, and last year’s Arkle hero Captain Chris and prolific winner Master Minded both provide credible competition even if doubts remain over their ability to stay the three-miles.
Diamond Harry ran well for a long way on his reappearance after a year off before understandably tiring in the latter stages, and may well claim a place at a big price.
The clash between Binocular, Overturn and Rock on Ruby in the Christmas Hurdle is a trappy one. Binocular was well held by Overturn on their last meeting, while that horse is running his fourth race in a month and may not be quite at his best as a result. Rock On Ruby may not like the return to two-miles on a speed track, so all the main protagonists have their own problems to overcome.
At home, Leopardstown kicks off its Christmas festival with probably their most low-key day of the four.
The centrepiece of the card is the Racing Post Novices’ Chase where Bog Warrior will look to add to his outstanding reputation after his recent 31-length success, with Willy Mullins’ Blackstairsmountain well-fancied by many to chase him home.
A more interesting betting proposition may be Donnas Palm in the Racing Post All You Need For Irish Racing Handicap Chase. At one point Noel Meade’s seven-year-old was rated 161 over hurdles, and his current chasing mark of 133 therefore looks to give him an excellent chance on his handicap debut.
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Bog Warrior is clearly a very promising talent and deserves his place at the head of the market in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. However, following his wide-margin win in a Grade Two at Fairyhouse last time out the layers have taken no chances; and the horse doesn’t represent much value at odds-on.
An interesting alternative to the Tony Martin trained horse is David Pipe’s Notus de la Tour. A smart performer over the smaller obstacles, the five-year-old recorded two facile victories over fences before losing his unbeaten record in that sphere last time out at Exeter.
That performance was arguably as impressive as his wins however, and he travelled well throughout before tiring in the final few furlongs. The fact that he ran so admirably while conceding 8lbs to the former Grade One winning hurdler Walkon, and the subsequent Grade Two winning Zaynar; means he comes here with a very realistic chance should the favourite underperform.
The slight drop back in trip should help too, and if jumps as well as he did the last day then the 9/1 currently available looks too big in what doesn’t look a vintage renewal.
While it might seems like an unusual race to pick a longshot in given the undoubted talent possessed by those at the top of the market, Mr Moonshine does appeal at 20/1 in the Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton.
Grand Crus, Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti all achieved a great deal more over hurdles than the selection, but Mr Moonshine’s form over fences is more or less on a par with anything so far shown by his more illustrious rivals. Having beaten a well-regarded Paul Nicholls horses in his second chase start Sue Smith’s charge gave a good account of himself in the Peterborough Chase in open company.
While ultimately he finished 15 lengths adrift of winner Gauvain, the fact that he finished only 11 lengths adrift of the second placed and 166-rated Somersby off level weights is encouraging. The step-up in trip may help too, with all of Moonshine’s best form over hurdles coming around the three-mile mark.
If the gelding hailed from a more fashionable ward it’s likely that he would be around half his current price.