After a four-day break, horse racing is back with a bang on Boxing Day / St Stephen’s Day!
The Christmas Festivals at both Kempton and Leopardstown get underway, the former a two-day affair while the latter goes on for four days of brilliant Grade 1 action.
Constitution Hill goes in the Christmas Hurdle but takes far too much out of the market, while we also see plenty of Flat racing on the all-weather during this time, these being our top festive picks across the board.
12.45 Kempton (Long Walk Hurdle – Grade 1) – GOSHEN
The Long Walk has been rerouted from Ascot, but despite the absence of a stiff uphill finish Kempton is still likely to suit the better horses in the race and we can expect a fair result.
That result will affect the odds for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, but for now let’s just revel in the glory of what is another top-level contest over three miles.
Champ heads the betting after narrowly edging out Paisley Park in the Long Distance Hurdle last time and both have a chance once again. Miranda and Not So Sleepy are also interesting, but a chance can be taken on Goshen.
His trainer remains convinced that going right-handed is better for him. We may forget sometimes that he’s still only six and we haven’t seen the best of him yet despite some top-level performances. He was an easy Grade 2 winner last time and this step up to three miles can drag out further improvement.
1.20 Kempton (Kauto Star Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – McFABULOUS
Since 2009, the Kauto Star has produced Native River, Coneygree and Bravemansgame. We hope for another star to come out of this race.
Trainers like Paul Nicholls are rarely wrong. McFabulous is a horse he always thought would go right to the top, but what none of us know is that it may take three miles and fences to drag that ability out of him.
He can beat Thyme Hill again here, as well as his stablemate Gelino Bello and Galia Des Liteaux.
1.35 Wetherby (Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase – Class 1) – SHAN BLUE
While most eyes will be on Kempton, Leopardstown and Chepstow, we mustn’t forget what a fabulous race the Rowland Meyrick is.
Not only is it an important and valuable Premier Handicap Chase in its own right, but it’ll be a result that shouldn’t go under the radar when it comes to sussing out Cheltenham Festival contenders in the staying handicaps.
But for falling, Shan Blue put in a rather spectacular performance last season in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at this venue and it would be wise to catch him in this handicap off just 148.
At the weights, Dan Skelton’s runner should get the better of Chantry House, Sporting John and Sounds Russian.
2.20 Leopardstown (Racing Post Novice Chase – Grade 1) – SAINT ROI
Some tip-top horses have won this race down the years. Native Upmanship, Moscow Flyer, Sizing Europe, Douvan, Min, Footpad and Notebook have all won it and it is very possible that we will see another top-class chaser this time.
Four-year-old Fil Dor is all the rage after winning by four lengths at Navan last time, but before that he’d been beaten four times in a row.
Finished second to him was Saint Roi and some revenge may now be on the cards. He had to lead that day and went wide early on, while he is also now 2lbs better off with the winner. It is also interesting that Willie Mullins is more than happy to take the favourite on again which probably speaks to Saint Roi’s wellbeing.
Hollow Games is the other one to consider in a race which has broken up quite badly but remains high in quality – it’s one to watch with the Cheltenham Festival in mind.
2.30 Kempton (King George VI Chase – Grade 1) – HITMAN
The King George VI Chase is the traditional highlight of our Boxing Day racing and in terms of quality, this renewal should not let us down.
It would have been interesting had Protektorat been given a spin around here, though he was a big price and was rather expectedly pulled out last Tuesday.
Paul Nicholls has won this twelve times and he has three in the running this year. One is the likely favourite, Charlie Hall winner Bravemansgame who is coming of age, while he also saddles grand old-timer Frodon. His apparent second-string Hitman is the selection here however.
As an inexperienced horse Hitman finished second in both the Tingle Creek and the Marsh Chase last season which is impressive, while his easy win at Haydock last time has rather gone under the radar.
He is maturing very nicely and isthe value in the race over his stablemates and L’Homme Presse, though the latter was impressive at Newcastle last time. Ahoy Senor is also having a crack at this, but may just lack the quality to take a major hand.
4.10 Wolverhampton (Handicap) – BALDOMERO
We’re on the Tapeta for this handicap, a near 1¼-mile affair at Class 2 level for decent money, at least by current British standards.
A clutch of these horses are capable enough; Via Serendipity, Chichester, Civil Law and especially Greatgadian may all be dangerous on the Tapeta surface. The one I like best however is Michael Appleby’s Baldomero.
We all know how good Appleby is with all-weather racing during the winter months. In this case he has a four-year-old who may still improve and he has some strong course form.
A close second in the Lincoln Handicap Trial here in March, he was most recently seen on the faster Polytrack when chasing home Excel Power who has proven to be very well handicapped.
Back on Tapeta he will be seen to best effect and he is still on a very workable mark.