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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

From Bank robberies to Santa showing up - the Top 10 worst Christmas presents

David Jennings reveals the worst gifts we have opened on the racetrack

Might Bite was a costly last-fence faller for in-running backers yesterday
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We have all unwrapped socks and saucepans but David Jennings counts down the worst Christmas presents we have received on the racecourse

1 Nothing inside the box
Even the socks and boxers are better than nothing at all. In 1995 there was one gigantic box gift-wrapped and racing fans in Britain and Ireland were all dying to see what was inside.

One Man v Master Oats in the King George, a wonderful Welsh National and some thrilling treats at Leopardstown. Christmas Day could not end quick enough.

But when we tore asunder the wrapping paper on December 26 there was nothing inside at all. Snow spoiled everything. There was 35 centimetres of snow recorded in the Shetlands with temperatures getting down to -20 in many parts of Britain. Kempton could not cope, neither could Chepstow or Leopardstown and we were left starved of racing action.

The King George was run at Sandown on January 6, with One Man winning, but there was no Welsh National at all. The only Christmas racing at Leopardstown took place on New Year’s Eve with a composite meeting of the festival’s best races.

2 The wrong winning post
It is the race that Roger Loughran will never forget and now, thanks to those Ladbrokes ads with Chris Kamara on Attheraces, he is reminded of his error every single time he switches on his television.

Loughran made a simple mistake. He thought the end of the inside rail on the chase track was the winning line. It wasn't. He had another few yards to go. It was a mistake that cost him Grade 1 glory on Central House in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown in 2005 as Hi Cloy and Andrew McNamara took full advantage of his misjudgement.

Seldom has such a simple mistake proved so costly.

3 Santa's shocking stocking filler
The King George is usually one of the most exciting races of the season and all the action in the 2005 edition was jam-packed into the final furlong.

Kicking King, sent off the 3-1 favourite, took up the running six out under Barry Geraghty and galloped his rivals into submission. He was vastly superior to his dozen opponents, who included the terrific two-miler Azertyuiop, and was ten lengths clear coming down to the last. A shuddering error there was the first piece of drama in the race. He somehow survived. Then he had to survive a surprise appearance from Santa Claus.

Some idiot, dressed in a Santa suit, ran right across the track 100 yards from the line and almost collided with the pacesetter. Fortunately, Geraghty kept a cool head and Kicking King didn't flinch.
It was a recipe for disaster but all those ingredients could not combine to cause carnage.

Santa Claus strays onto the course during the 2004 King George
4 Bank robbed
There are always tears flowing over Christmas but they tend to come from kids who get clothes instead of computer games, not jockeys.

But, back on Boxing Day in 1994, Adrian Maguire could not turn off the waterworks. Barton Bank had won the 1993 King George by just a head from Bradbury Star but he was about to defend his crown in far more emphatic fashion and held a huge lead coming down to the last. All he had to do was pop it. That task proved too much as he met it all wrong and sent Maguire out the side door. It was so, so cruel and seeing Maguire's emotions afterwards was hard to watch.

Barton Bank's trainer, David Nicholson, did not take too kindly to our own Ed Whitaker taking a photograph of him consoling Maguire either. It was a drama-filled day.

Barton Bank's dramatic departure served the race on a platter to the French challenger Algan, the fourth of Francois Doumen's five wins in the race. It was a first British success for former French jumps champion Philippe Chevalier who was having his first ride in the country.

5 Harchibald heartbreak
He was everyone's guilty pleasure. We all knew him so well. We all knew he wanted to get down and dirty about as much as Mezut Ozil does. We knew him wouldn't battle. Yet, Harchibald's shock reversal in the 2007 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton still came as a huge surprise.

Having famously reeled in Rooster Booster in the race three years earlier, Harchibald was sent off 8-11 to win the race for a second time and he appeared to be sticking to the script in between the final two flights as Paul Carberry sat motionless. It appeared only a matter of time before the pair would pass. They did, but not for long.

Harchibald's old failing came back to haunt him and, just like the 2005 Champion Hurdle, he found absolutely nothing when push came to shove. Straw Bear got back up to win by a head and our love for Harci was one again tested.

6 Sunray shines
Did you hear the one about the 105-rated horse who won a Grade 1 hurdle? Only this is not a joke from a Christmas cracker, it actually happened.

Rewind to the 2003 Finale Juvenile Hurdle on Welsh National day at Chepstow. Sunray, who finished last of 15 and was beaten 33 lengths on his sole Flat start in a Warwick maiden, had failed to score in his previous six starts over hurdles and was pulled-up at Cheltenham on his last outing before Chepstow.

For Evan Williams to be running him in a Grade 1 looked far-fetched. He was sent off at 40-1. You could have added another zero to that price and punters still would not have have been tempted.

But the 2003 Finale Juvenile Hurdle proved to be one of the worst Grade 1s ever run. He beat the odds-on favourite Mondul who never won another race over hurdles. Adopted Hero, who finished third, finished his career rated 95 over hurdles. The fourth, A Toi A Moi, was rated 98 over hurdles at the end of his career.

Now that is what you call a substandard Grade 1.

7 Once bitten, twice shy
Barton Bank's final fence fall in 1994 may have been the most dramatic exit in King George history, but it certainly wasn't the most crunching fall we have ever witnessed there. That award goes to Might Bite in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase just last year.

Might Bite was a very good hurdler, not a brilliant one, and he had not yet announced himself as a top-class chaser. That all changed around Kempton as he jumped his rivals silly and was almost 20 lengths clear coming down to the last. Everything else was legless at the time, but he somehow managed to accelerate.

Daryl Jacob decided to ask him for one last mighty leap. Might Bite disagreed and never lifted his legs. He ploughed straight through the fence and the pair parted company, leaving Royal Vacation to pick up the pieces.

Had Might Bite stood up, it would have been one of the most amazing displays we have ever seen around Kempton.

8 Chepstow carnage
So heavy was the ground at Chepstow for the 2016 Welsh National, that the race was moved forward to 1.45pm from an originally intended 3.25pm off time to ensure it was the first chase on the card. It was gruelling stuff.

Twenty started, six finished. Half of the field were pulled-up. There were 43 lengths between the first and the last home.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going and there was none tougher than Mountainous who ploughed through the mud under Jamie Moore to win his second Welsh National, three years after his first one in 2013. Unsurprisingly both were on heavy ground.

Mountainous devours the mud to win his second Welsh National in January 2016

9 Istabraq down
It was New Year's Eve in 2000. Leopardstown played host to an eight-race extravaganza, containing four graded races, as two of the intended days of the Christmas Festival were lost due to foul weather. The weather was foul this day too with severe winds almost threatening the card.

The December Festival Hurdle was first up and off at 12.20pm. It was supposed to be a foregone conclusion. Istabraq had won his third Champion Hurdle in a row the previous March and this was his first start since. He was 1-4 favourite.

But he failed to travel with his usual fluency and Charlie Swan was sending out the distress signals coming down to the last. He was only third at the time and looked to be fighting a losing battle to Moscow Flyer.

A rare jumping error saw Istabraq crash out. It was his first fall and only his fourth defeat. Moscow Flyer won the race under Barry Geraghty, beating Stage Affair and Ruby Walsh by two lengths.

10 Cossack crumbles
Some say he would have stayed on to win, others argue that he was stuffed at the time. We will never find out. 

Don Cossack was in pursuit of the mighty Vautour, just over two lengths down, when he crashed out at the second-last in the 2015 King George. 

Bryan Cooper says he definitely would have finished ahead of Cue Card, who was upsides him at the time of departure, and if that is the case, then he would have won the race as Paddy Brennan got up in the dying strides to deny Vautour. 

Don Cossack came out ten weeks later to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup and we still wonder whether his stamina might have landed him a King George that year too. We will never know.

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Some idiot, dressed in a Santa suit, ran right across the track 100 yards from the line and almost collided with Kicking King
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