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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Enough is never enough - but Kempton dish comes close to sating biggest appetite

Might Bite: mercurial performer tops the King George market
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Nobody gets everything they want on Christmas Day, no matter how good they have been. But wait 24 hours and it can occasionally be a different story.

It’s a greedy man who puts both the 32Red King George VI Chase and the Unibet Christmas Hurdle on his wish list, as the two Kempton showpieces are such huge, season-defining Grade 1 events that one would be plenty for most appetites.

Many people would be happy with the mere continuation of their existence on a track that is threatened with closure under controversial proposals to build houses over a course where Desert Orchid, Kauto Star and so many others have carved festive history.

But you don't become champion trainer without aiming high, and Nicky Henderson became the first to win both races since they have been held on the same Boxing Day card thanks to Long Run and Darlan in 2012.

Henderson had actually done the same thing with Long Run and Binocular two years earlier, but that was after frost intervened on December 26 and his pair triumphed in mid-January – practically Easter Egg season in shopping terms. And he has justifiably high hopes of leapfrogging Paul Nicholls at the top of the 2017-18 trainers’ table by doing the double once again.

Might be his day

Might Bite has looked obvious King George material ever since his stunning display in last year’s supporting Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, making Grade 1 rivals look like second-raters and holding a commanding lead when he fell at the last.

Plenty has been made of the quirks he showed in winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last March, yet the fact remains he has put up a series of top-class efforts, including at Sandown first time out this term, and has the ideal mix of speed and stamina for this unique test.

Nor is he Henderson’s only hope as Whisper was a dual Grade 1 winner over hurdles and showed he is of similar calibre as a chaser when a fine second under 11st 8lb in the Ladbrokes Trophy – formerly the Hennessy – at Newbury.

Last year's winner Thistlecrack is back to try again but all three have something to find if the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai is as good as he looked in the Betfair Chase.

Bristol De Mai: looked awesome in the Betfair Chase

'If', indeed. Putting a finger on exactly what he achieved in bolting up by 57 lengths on Haydock’s uniquely testing terrain last month is a problem that would challenge Stephen Hawking – our handicapper Steve Mason rates him a lofty 185 and if he’s right it will take something very special to beat the six-year-old.

Clear D'Air

It’s much easier to assess the figures in the Christmas Hurdle, which Henderson has won a record six times, including in four of the last seven years.

His Buveur D’Air is comfortably clear on the ratings, which is only to be expected of a Champion Hurdle winner who looked as good as ever in landing the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on his reappearance.

He started 1-6 favourite that day and will be nearly as short a price here, with The New One – second in this three times since 2013 – the only rival appearing remotely in his league.

Smart novices bid for Racing Post cash

It should be much more competitive as Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott clash in the Racing Post Novice Chase, highlight on the opening day of Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting.

Champion Hurdle fourth Footpad looked a high-class recruit to chasing when he bolted up by 11 lengths at Navan last month. He will need to be if he is to cope with Death Duty, who made it three from three over fences when landing the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse at this Grade 1 level three weeks ago.

Espoir D’Allen bids to cement his position as Ireland’s leading JCB Triumph Hurdle hope in the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle on a card that also features the jumping debut of Champion Bumper runner-up Debuchet.

Quantity to go with the quality

But Boxing Day, or St Stephen's Day in Ireland, is about much more than just top-level action at the top tracks – it’s also a day to revel in the sheer variety our sport can offer.

There are 78 winners to find across Britain and Ireland, and whether it be the field of smart sprinters assembled for a £20,000 6f dash at Wolverhampton or the 13 doughty staying chasers lined up for the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen, there are treats aplenty in racing's stocking.

And look out for Donald McCain at Sedgefield and Wetherby as he's won with his last five runners and has the appetite for more. Enough is never enough at this time of year.

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It's about much more than just top-level action at the top tracks – it’s also a day to revel in the sheer variety our sport can offer
E.W. Terms
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