Racing Post's guide to finding winners this Christmas
CHRISTMAS is a time for giving and, as such, can get very expensive what with all the presents, food and alcohol. Luckily, for racing fans at least, there is a full programme of action to get stuck into to hopefully lessen the blow – and maybe even build a surplus for the sales.
12.55 Kempton - Novice hurdle
Nicky Henderson won this last year with Altior and Jenkins has long been talked up as his Supreme horse this season. Second in a bumper at the Punchestown festival last season, he made a winning start over hurdles and, while he faces some decent rivals in Elgin, Glaring, Ballyhill and Mohaayed, he is expected to give his trainer a fourth win in this in six years.
1.15 Leopardstown - Grade 2 juvenile hurdle
Joseph O'Brien trained last season's Triumph Hurdle winner in all but name. This season his name is on the licence for ante-post favourite Landofhopeandglory, who faces a rematch with his Willie Mullins-trained Grade 3 victim Bapaume and the Gordon Elliott-trained third Mega Fortune as the trio step into Grade 2 company.
A length separated them that day, but the fact it was Bapaume's first start for Mullins and Landofhopeandglory's third for O'Brien may give the Closutton camp reason to think they can reverse the form. Mega Fortune was a further length and a quarter adrift, but a stronger pace and softer conditions underfoot could bring him into contention.
1.50 Wetherby - Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick
Two of last season's top novices, RSA Chase winner Blaklion and Mildmay runner-up Henri Parry Morgan, take on experienced handicappers in the Rowland Meyrick.
Both were last seen chasing home Native River in the Hennessy, with Blaklion fifth (beaten seven and three-quarter lengths) and Henri Parry Morgan 11th (beaten 27 lengths). Sue Smith's Wakanda, who this time last year won the Silver Cup at Ascot off a mark of 151, has dropped to 149 after a few disappointing runs in Graded company and is another to bring a level of class to this contest.
2.00 Limerick - Grade 2 novice Chase
Bellshill, a two-time winner at the Punchestown festival, made an impressive start to his chasing career with a ten-length victory at odds of 2-5 and he bids to add a Grade 2 over fences to his CV.
Gordon Elliott's Coral Cup winner Diamond King, himself a 14-length winner on his chasing debut but a disappointing fifth when sent off favourite for the Grade 1 Drinmore earlier this month, and his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Haymount, who on his chasing debut comfortably accounted for subsequent Drinmore winner Coney Island by three and a half lengths, provide much stiffer opposition this time in a race in which the Gigginstown-owned pair of Attribution and Nambour cannot be dismissed.
2.05 Kempton - Grade 1 novice Chase
Paul Nicholls' Caspian Caviar-winning four-year-old Frodon gets weight all round as he steps up in trip and into Grade 1 company in a race his trainer has not won since it was renamed after Ditcheat legend Kauto Star in 2012.
He is joined by stablemate Present Man, while Nicky Henderson (Might Bite and Caracci Apache) and Dan Skelton (Virgilio and Churchtown Champ) are also double-handed. Likely favourite Anibale Fly heralds from Tony Martin's County Meath base and is expected to improve for the step up to 3m after finishing second in the Grade 1 Drinmore at Fairyhouse.
2.20 Leopardstown - Grade 1 novice chase
Another belter as last year's Supreme favourite Min clashes with Punchestown Champion Hurdle runner-up Identity Thief over fences in this Racing Post-sponsored Grade 1. Min, who is one from one over fences since getting put in his place by Altior, is currently just a Grade 2 novice hurdle winner but heads the betting from a Grade 1 open company hurdle and Grade 2 novice chase winner, such is his reputation.
2.40 Kempton - Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle
A fascinating race. Immediately after Yanworth's win in the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle all the talk was, rightly, of stepping up in trip after a laboured effort to just get the better of Lil Rockerfeller. The emergence of Unowhatimeanharry has resulted in him being rerouted to the two-mile division and he faces two old hands in The New One and My Tent Or Yours, as well as fellow improving youngster Ch'tibello - who at least is a proven two-miler.
The New One got the better of My Tent Or Yours in the International, but Cheltenham's New course has always most suited Nigel Twiston-Davies's stable star and My Tent Or Yours, who as a bit of a flat-track bully is far better suited by Kempton, got the better of their 2013 battle in this very race in cosy fashion.
3.15 Kempton - Grade 1 King George
Cue Card, Thistlecrack? Thistlecrack, Cue Card? This looks a two horse race. Yes, Silviniaco Conti is a dual winner of the race, Josses Hill has won his last three starts from the front and looks to finally be realising his potential and Tea For Two loves the track and could be ridden to swoop late and pull off a shock should they go too hard, but realistically this comes down to the two Colin Tizzard runners.
Cue Card is the defending champion and an eight-time Grade 1 winner, and yet you get the impression that unless he can force Thistlecrack into a mistake he will come off second-best, such is the esteem in which Thistlecrack is held.
However, the chances of drawing out that mistake are good. When it comes to jumping fences Thistlecrack is a novice, he has looked novicey at times, and he is sure to be put under pressure in a way he never has before. He has the athletic ability to cope, but does he have the accuracy and technique to survive in the cauldron of the King George?
1.20 Leopardstown - Grade 1 chase
There would be no bigger shock over the Christmas period than if Douvan were to meet with defeat for the first time since joining WIllie Mullins in Tuesday's Grade 1 at Leopardstown. He faces some decent opposition – led by perennial rival Sizing John, who has taken him on unsuccessfully on six occasions – but if he stands up, he wins.
1.45 Kempton - Grade 2 novice chase
Hot on the heels of Douvan we have Altior. The heir apparent to his Racing Post Arkle crown and closest competitor in the This Will Not Be Beaten Stakes.
Altior's presence is sure to decimate the Wayward Lad field and that the biggest danger at the five-day stage looked to be stablemate Buveur D'Air – third in the Supreme eight and a half lengths behind Altior – tells you everything you need to know about his dominance over his rivals.
1.55 Leopardstown - Grade 1 novice hurdle
The final fields for Tuesday will not be known until the day before, but this Grade 1 novice hurdle has been won by the likes of Hurricane Fly and Jezki in the past and should have another high-class field with the likes of Peace News and Avenir D'Une Vie entered by Henry de Bromhead, Blood Crazed Tiger and Brelade by Gordon Elliott and Crack Mome, Riven Light and Saturnas among those for Willie Mullins.
2.00 Chepstow - Grade 1 Finale Hurdle
If Landofhopeandglory wins at Leopardstown on Monday he will in all probability be cut into outright favouritism for the Triumph Hurdle, but his stay at the head of the market may last little more than 24 hours as Defi Du Seuil, also owned by JP McManus and the horse currently challenging him for favouritism, is in action here.
He has looked fantastic on his last two starts at Cheltenham, barely coming off the bridle, and another bloodless victory would likely make him favourite. Evan Williams' unbeaten filly Evening Hush, in receipt of 7lb, looks the danger, while Alan King's Coeur De Lion chased him home last time so the fact the trainer – who won this in 2007 and 2008 with Franchoek and Walkon – reopposes, this time with Dino Velvet, is interesting.
2.20 Kempton - Grade 2 chase
It is a reflection of the regard in which Altior is held that he also has an entry in the Desert Orchid. Were he to run here he would probably win, but 2014 winner Special Tiara and 2013 victor Sire De Grugy currently head the betting, with Garde La Victoire and Altior's stablemate Vaniteux bringing further depth to a fascinating field.
Special Tiara is fresher than Sire De Grugy, but he is too often the bridesmaid and needs good ground, whereas Gary Moore's ten-year-old has won half of his 26 starts over fences and the 2014 Champion Chase winner has produced two of the best efforts of his career on his last two starts, winning an Ascot handicap off a mark of 160 and then going down by a length to Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek.
2.40 Chepstow - Grade 3 Welsh National
Not content with dominating the King George, Colin Tizzard also looks to have the Welsh National wrapped up with the horse that is boxed between Cue Card and Thistlecrack.
Officially Native River is 8lb well in as he bids to add the Coral Welsh National to his brilliant Hennessy win. He was meant to be 4lb well in, as he went up 8lb for his Newbury victory but was only due to carry a 4lb penalty here, but due to being topweight, and BHA rules no longer allowing penalties to lumber horses with any more than top weight, so he gets in here off the same mark of 155 from which he was so impressive in the Hennessy.
The extra three and a half furlongs, on likely more testing ground, are the only question marks and while the reopposing Carole's Destrier was closing fast at the line, Native River saw out every yard of the four-miler when second to Minella Rocco at the Cheltenham Festival.
Dual winner Mountainous and 2014 hero Emperor's Choice should be back for more and could be joined by the likes of staying chase regulars Houblon Des Obeaux, Theatre Guide, Vicente and Vyta Du Roc.