Saturday, 24 December 2011

Festive fortunes

‘Got on a lucky one. Came in eighteen to one’
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, Fairytale of New York

Shane MacGowan had the right idea. Never mind the Christmas orthodoxy. Sniff out the value amongst a turkey-free feast of top quality racing this festive season.

Boxing Day features 12 fixtures in Britain and Ireland. So here’s the first gift of Christmas: a punting guide to some of the best of the day’s action.

King George VI Gold Cup, Kempton, 3.10pm
Highlight of the Boxing Day Card, this race has seen some great champions down the years. I’m going to swallow hard and not launch into yet another eulogy about Desert Orchid. Because these days it is as much Kauto Star’s race as Dessie’s. Kauto had picked up four of these on the bounce until 2009 amongst a haul of 15 Grade 1s and counting. He returns here a fully-fledged hero after stunning the punters in Haydock’s Betfair Chase with an exhilarating round of exuberant jumping and front running. It gave Paul Nicholls his best day in 20 years of training.  At 11 years old, the dual Gold Cup winner would most likely have been retired if he’d given an indifferent display in that race. Instead he put current Gold Cup Champion Long Run to the sword. Emotional stuff. Not a dry eye in the house.

Can he repeat the trick six weeks later? The head says no. But then my head said no at Haydock too.  I’m saying no again because that day was his Gold Cup. Nicholls, brilliantly, had him as fit as he possibly could for that race. Long Run and the other Betfair Chaser to line up here - Diamond Harry – will have improved for the run. It was not their season’s number one target. And also because I believe Kauto needs longer between his races now. Still, if he’s ridden from the front again (as surely he must) it will be a thrilling spectacle and he’ll take some passing.

Nicholls’ other runner, Master Minded has had this as his target all season. He looked back to his best at Ascot in November and will be tanking round right-handed which is clearly his preference. Seemingly needing further than the bare two-miles now, he comes here with a very live chance. I do have some reservations about him getting home over three miles, though, in such hot company.  

Long Run will be favourite on the day. He’ll be hard to beat if he gets into a rythmn with his jumping. That’s the key to him. He didn’t quite nail it at Haydock and that was the difference between him and the Star. But he’ll be closer and better here.

At the prices, I’m tempted by Captain Chris. Last year’s Arkle winner should have an easy three miles within his scope and will be better than his sluggish outing in the Haldon Gold Cup. He unseated at the last when taking off a mile early with the race at his mercy. Dicky Johnson being bounced around the saddle and exiting the side door would have been comical had I not backed it. His jumping round here will need to be sharper and there will be some harum-scarum moments, but he’s my value pick here.

Christmas Hurdle, Kempton, 2.35pm
A small but select field. Five are forecast to go to post, of which three have live chances. Overturn and Binocular renew their Fighting Fifth rivalry from last month. Binocular will strip fitter and could reverse placings with the former. This will be Overturn’s fourth run inside six weeks and there’s every chance he’s going to the well once too often. I love him though. Tough as teak, fantastic frontrunner and could still be on the upgrade. But it will be no surprise if Rock On Ruby beats them both.  The form of his handicap hurdle win off top weight at HQ just gets stronger and stronger (third placed Raya Star came out to win The Ladbroke last week). One of the top staying novices last season, Ruby has been kept to hurdles and seems to have found new pace at the minimum trip. He could be Nicholls’ Champion Hurdle horse, but he needs to make the step up here. I think he will.

Feltham Novices Chase, Kempton, 2.00pm
Take out Long Run’s win in the 2009 renewal and this formerly top-drawer novice chase has had some thin and shallow renewals. Anyone remember Ungaro? Thought not. Last year’s race was snowed off. So it’s encouraging to see at least three good looking sorts take their chances here. Grand Crus has stamped a bit of class over the division already this season. Tidy jumping has seen him take two decent chases without being extended. But there are all the hallmarks of a vintage novice crop this season.  Bob’s Worth narrowly beat another good one in Cue Card last time out, receiving weight. He showed pleasing resolution to get back up to the leader in a messy race. He’s my idea of a serious chaser. I fancy him to get the better of Grand Crus over a trip that one of my shrewd mates says might not be the latter’s ideal. Silviano Conti presents a serious threat to these two and is not lightly disregarded. However, I’d assert Bob’s Worth on the basis of a vague form line through Cue Card and Mad Moose.

Roland Meyrick Handicap Chase, Wetherby, 1.45pm
Next, we’re up at Wetherby for their Boxing Day highlight, a 3m slog on bottomless ground.  This one is not for the feint-hearted. Typically for this race there is a good sized field and plenty of live chances. You have to go back to 2004 for a winner carrying more than 11st and the presence of Midnight Chase at the head of the weights knocks a further three out of the handicap proper. I like the look of Neptune Equester’s win at Haydock last time over 3f further than this. He’s got a nice weight, the right sort of progressive profile (how I wish I had a quid for every time I’ve said that…) and his handler Ellison knows a thing or two about getting one ready for a big handicap like this. He’s also in the Welsh National, so my hope is he lines up here instead. Halley is an interesting contender from Tom George’s yard. He has a good chase track record in France and tried only once here over hurdles and now thrown into this.

Racing Post Novice Chase, Leopardstown, 2.20pm
The first Grade 1 of Leopardstown’s excellent Christmas meeting. This renewal stars Bog Warrior who carved up a decent field at Fairyhouse earlier this month. Tony Martin’s charge has won every time he’s completed and looks hot. Blackstairmountain takes his chance after a low-key chasing introduction last time at Clonmel. The pick of his inconsistent form over hurdles should put him bang there, but Bog Warrior has the form in the book. There’s an English raider from my 40TF list. Notus De La Tour was put in his place by Walkon and a resurgent Zaynar at Exeter last time and now reverts to a shorter trip (which suits) but up in class (which doesn’t). He’ll like the ground, but I’ll only get interested if he’s a big price.

Boxing Day is just for starters. Other gems in the upcoming days include the Welsh National (I’ll be looking for Neptune Equester or Sona Sasta if they line up), The Dial-A-Bet Chase, (Big Zeb, Golden Silver, Noble Prince, the Wayward Lad Novices Chase (Peddlers Cross, Sprinter Sacre, Menorah), Istabraq Festival Hurdle (Hurricane Fly, Oscars Well) Lexus Chase (Quito De La Roque, Rubi Light, Joncol).

So, Happy Christmas, all. I can see a better time when all our dreams come true.



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