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The King George comes once a year – just as well with my betting record

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To celebrate the countdown to Christmas, the Racing Post is giving away one piece of paid content free each day. Here, David Ashforth looks forward to a Boxing Day clash to savour 

Christmas comes just once a year, as does Christmas pudding, which is a mercy. I’ve always thought that Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, was badly treated. Granted, he was a miserable skinflint but if you had to put up with Bob Cratchit’s relentless jolliness you’d probably behave badly too. It would be like having Matt Chapman presenting from your living room every day, with you locked inside.

I hope that in 2018 presenters don’t always head straight for the winning connections. Let’s face it, they’re unlikely to say anything out of the ordinary; they’ll just say they’re jolly pleased and compliment each other. The best chance of hearing something different is if the horse joins in.

Instead, why not make a dash for the unlucky runner-up? If the jockey hadn’t made a balls-up of the last fence he’d have won. Most trainers will do the decent thing and wait until later to suggest that the jockey may have been in error but the interviewer might be lucky and catch the trainer welcoming the rider back with: “Boris Johnson would have made a better job of that. You’re fired.” To which the jockey retorts: “Good. You’re a hopeless trainer.” Excellent television!

Like Christmas, the King George VI Chase comes around once a year, which is just as well as the last time I backed the winner was with One Man in 1996.

After the winner has returned to the winner’s enclosure, I like to time how long it takes before a bookmaker’s representative gets himself/herself in front of a camera and says what, roughly translated, means: “That’s over, then. Here are our prices for the Gold Cup.”

It’s not very seemly but they’re just doing their job. It was the same with Albert Pierrepoint.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch Nigel Twiston-Davies’s horses work several times in recent months. It’s a pity that I can never remember which one’s which, even with Jim Old or Carl Llewellyn telling me. You just can’t help some people and I think I might be one of them.

The trouble is, racehorses come in such a limited range of colours. No wonder owners stare down the gallops and ask which one’s theirs. Of course, it depends on the owner. “Which one’s mine?” “They’re all yours, Mr McManus.”

Luckily, like Desert Orchid (King George winner four times) and One Man (ditto twice), Bristol De Mai is a grey. Great. I don’t think he was one of the ones I saw at Twiston-Davies’s.

Second favourite for the King George, Bristol De Mai is one of those precocious French-bred non-thoroughbreds who have passed their ‘A’ levels by the time they’re four and tend to fall back exhausted at the age of about eight, their work done.

This one started his career with Guillaume Macaire, which means that he was probably schooled over obstacles when he was two. It’s true, Macaire does that. He probably pops mares that are in foal over a few hurdles to get the foals prenatally familiar with jumping. When he was three Bristol De Mai won a hurdle at Auteuil and three months later, soon after arriving at Twiston-Davies’s, he won the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

Still only six, Bristol De Mai has already run in 16 chases, winning seven and finishing second six times. That’s pretty amazing but the most striking feature of his racing career is his appreciation of soft and heavy ground. Bristol De Mai thrives on it. It gives him a big competitive advantage that he doesn’t have on better ground. You might make a note of that because I think it’s important.

Although Cue Card fell and Coneygree was not Coneygree in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby last month, beating stablemate Blaklion when giving him 6lb was still a fine reappearance effort by Bristol De Mai. Subsequently winning the Betfair Chase imperiously confirmed that he’s improved but mainly that he was deliriously happy on bad ground while his rivals were deeply depressed by it.

If it comes up worse than soft, Bristol De Mai is the most likely winner of the King George. If it doesn’t, Might Bite will probably beat him. Thistlecrack is a terrific horse but despite winning last year’s King George he is still a relatively inexperienced chaser who can be a heart-in-the-mouth jumper and has to be forgiven a disappointing return over hurdles at Newbury three weeks ago. However he’s ridden, I’ll be surprised if he bounces back to top fencing form on Boxing Day.

It’s true that I’ve been wrong before but in the well-established tradition of pundits, tipsters, bloodstock agents, stockbrokers, economists and parents, I propose to carry on as if a stranger to error. If all else fails you could follow your own judgement.

Marsha a favourite from day one

And so we say farewell to Marsha. More or less since seeing her at Sir Mark Prescott’s yard before Marsha’s first appearance on a racecourse in 2015, she has been my favourite present-day racehorse.

She was an unmissably impressive physical specimen who drew one’s eye at every encounter and had the ability to match her physique. Marsha also had a calm temperament that helped her put up with human beings. She’d probably have done well in the diplomatic corps.

Marsha was fast and could quicken off a fast pace, which brought anticipation to every race. It was always a joy to watch her. Although the unfeeling form book favoured Lady Aurelia and Battaash for this year’s Nunthorpe Stakes at York, with the pace certain to be strong the race was going to play to Marsha’s strengths. It didn’t mean she’d win but in catching Lady Aurelia on the line Marsha showed gritty determination as well as class.

Marsha (Luke Morris, far side) collars Lady Aurelia (Frankie Dettori) on the line in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York
With a lot to overcome in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar, she was still beaten only one and a quarter lengths. In defeat, that was a cracking effort and Marsha was a cracking racehorse, very fast, very consistent, very game and very well trained.

After her six million guineas sale, I hope Marsha was offered a choice of main course for dinner, as a treat. Jordan’s Organic Chunky Porridge Oats, perhaps. They’re very nice. There’s no need to add anything, just make it with half milk and half water.

Marsha will now devote herself to a life of managed promiscuity with Coolmore. I expect she’ll be good at that too, while former owners the Elite Racing Club will be able to afford more of those black spots on their white colours.

Christmas pudding recipe (serves six)

This is a simple tried-and-tested recipe you will find difficult, if not impossible, to better.

Ingredients: One large Christmas pudding, three apples, three oranges, three bottles of brandy.

Place the pudding on a plate. Place the fruit on a separate plate. Pour half a bottle of brandy over the pudding and light. Repeat until pudding fully incinerated. Place remnants in waste bin. Serve fresh fruit together with rest of brandy. Savour.

Quite a feat for Hayley to turn a profit

It was a silly mistake of Hayley Turner’s to bet while still holding a jockey’s licence, albeit when not actively race-riding. She has been punished for it.

It could have been worse. She could have lost money betting. A lot of punters would be quite pleased with themselves if they’d had 164 bets in 18 months and managed to come out on top, £160 up. 

Hayley Turner: placed bets while holding a jockeys' licence

Noel O'Brien remembered

I was very sorry to hear of Noel O’Brien’s death. I didn’t know him well but whenever I met him he was so warm, open, friendly and interesting that he was someone you didn’t forget. It’s very sad.


If you are interested in this, you should read:

'It's a bitter pill to swallow': Hayley Turner upset after betting breach ban
A betting account and a lengthy ban: how Hayley Turner episode unfolded


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He's one of those precocious French-bred non-thoroughbreds who have passed their ‘A’ levels by the time they’re four
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