The Festive Jumps Preview
The Sports Gazette unwraps jump racings biggest three days of racing over the Christmas period as the King George VI Chase takes centre stage over a stunning weekend of pulsating action. After suffering from a likely food and drink overdose on Christmas Day, racing fans will quickly switch their attention to the fixtures in Britain and across the Irish Sea.
All eyes on Boxing Day will be on Kempton Park, where the Paul Nicholls trained Silviniaco Conti will be bidding for a third consecutive win in the King George VI Chase. Champion Hurdler Faugheen, who to the surprise of the racing community lost his unbeaten record last time at Punchestown will be looking to return to winning ways earlier in the afternoon.
The ground at Kempton Park is currently “good to soft, soft in places” and with heavy rain forecast on Thursday morning and light rain on Friday, it is more than likely that the King George will be run on soft ground, a factor which is likely to have a say on the outcome of the race.
Over three days culminating on Monday with the Lexus Chase, Leopardstown will host a feast of graded action dominated by the Willie Mullins yard. But the biggest betting heat over the weekend will no doubt be the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow which will once again be a gruelling and stamina sapping slog over three and half miles.
King George Meeting
The King George card kicks off at 12:50 with the William Hill On Your Mobile Novices’ Hurdle which has been won in recent years by some talented young hurdlers including the J.P. McManus owned Jollyallan twelve months ago.
This year, Altior who will be ridden by Coneygree’s regular pilot Nico de Boinville will be favourite for the race after a gutsy win in a Grade Two at Ascot last month. He faces competition in the shape of two Paul Nicholl’s trained types, Marracudja and Simon Squirrel, the former who still could be anything after coasting to two easy victories in much less competitive events. An Irish raider in the shape of Open Eagle from the Mullins yard, a high class transfer from the flat sphere, will make it an interesting affair.
At 2pm, the Grade One Feltham Novices’ Chase over 3 miles will no doubt unleash a leading hope in the staying novice chase division, just as it did last year when Cheltenham Gold Cup hero, Coneygree won this race on route to becoming the first novice since 1974 to win jump racing’s most prestigious race.
Native River, who dented some big reputations last time at Newbury and Tea for Two, a scopey 6-year-old who was impressive on his chasing debut at Exeter, will be vying for favouritism. Also likely to be in the shake up at bigger prices are the Neil Mulholland trained Southfield Royale who has jumped well in his last two races, and Bally Beaufort who steps up again to his preferred three mile trip.
Betting (Top Four) Advised 1pt win Native River
Native River 7/4
Tea for Two 15/8
Southfield Royale 13/2
Bally Beaufort 10/1
Christmas Hurdle (Grade One, 2 miles)
The most talented horse on show over the weekend will arguably be Faugheen nicknamed “The Machine” who looks for back to back Christmas Hurdles and will start a short price favourite. He was unable to find his trademark turn off foot behind stable companion Nichols Canyon in what was a falsely run race on his first race of the season. Critics will want him to prove that Punchestown was just a blip.
He is up against four rivals, two of which, Old Guard and The New One rate the main dangers. Old Guard has improved a total of 20 pounds according to official ratings since his win in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham back in October. His subsequent wins in the Greatwood and the Grade Two International Hurdle (formerly the Bula Hurdle) mark him out as the biggest improver in the race and he must be taken seriously.
A surprise too many may be that top jockey Sam Twiston Davies has chosen to ride Old Guard over the horse he has shown much affection for over the years, The New One. Having been the leading British Champion Hurdle hope for the past two years, the weight is firmly off his shoulders now and should he return to his best as we saw in the 2014 Champion Hurdle where he was unlucky not to win the race, he could give Faugheen a wakeup call.
Betting (Top 4) Advised = 1pt e/w Old Guard
The New One 11/2
Old Guard 7/1
King George VI Chase (Grade One, 3 miles)
Moving onto the main event of the day, Silviniaco Conti will likely start bigger than 5/1 on the day which could seem startling considering he is now going for three consecutive wins in the race. However, he did disappoint badly in the Cheltenham Gold Cup back in March and was readily turned over by Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month. Now a 9-year-old, it could be foolish for punters to rule him out running a big race again.
But currently heading the market is the Gordon Elliot trained Don Cossack who is officially the highest rated horse in the race after hosing up in his last four races which included a seven length thrashing of the Cheltenham Gold Cup second Djakadam in the Punchestown Gold Cup back in April. Whilst Cheltenham hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Gigginstown owned charge, going right handed on a track such as Kempton shouldn’t prove worrisome at all, and at the peak of his powers could take a strong hand in the finish.
In what could be one of the most exciting King George’s in quite some time, the race has been given extra flavour with the addition of Hennessy Gold Cup winner Smad Place who put up his career best performance at Newbury in November. Now in contention for top honours in March, the fact that the Alan King team have plunged their stable star into the race must speak volumes for his chances.
Smad Place finished twelve lengths ahead of Theatre Guide trained by Colin Tizzard and his stable mate, Cue Card, would definitely provide the most heart touching result if he were to land over the last with an unassailable lead. He has been back to his exuberant best this season and showed a dominant display of galloping and jumping in the Betfair Chase and he acts on the track, if memories go back two years ago when he turned into the home straight going easily but faded late on.
All however could be swept away by the brilliance of Vautour under Ruby Walsh. More workman like than was hoped for on his return at Ascot in November, the 6-year-old has been close up at the top of the betting for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup since putting up a most impressive display in the JLT Novices’ Chase back in March at the festival. He put to the sword some talented rivals and measured every fence with pure athleticism on that day. It is arguable that if the ground gets very soft it could hinder his chance but he is nevertheless a very live contender.
Betting (Top Four) Advised 1pt e/w Smad Place
Don Cossack 9/4
Cue Card 7/2
Smad Place 8/1
Lexus Chase Meeting
Leopardstown hosts a scintalling three days of jumping action which is topped off on Monday with the 90,000 euro Lexus Chase.
On Boxing Day, the Mullins trained and Susannah Ricci owned, Douvan, takes centre stage in the Grade One RacingPost Novice Chase. Already hot favourite for next year’s Arkle at the Cheltenham festival, he is expected to follow up on his chase debut success.
On Sunday, two Grade One’s are the features of the day. In the Paddy Power Chase, Arkle hero Un De Sceaux makes his return to action since April and will be prohibitive odds to take the race on route to Cheltenham in March. This is followed by the Future Champions Novices’ hurdle which Willie Mullins has a stranglehold over.
The feature race across the Irish Sea will see Don Poli putting up his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials but faces stiff competition in the shape of Djakadam and Road to Riches, both of whom finished second and third in that very race back in March.
Unsurprisingly trained by the Irish Champion Trainer Mullins, Don Poli put up an encouraging performance back from a break at Aintree, and having won the Grade One Novice Chase at this meeting last year under very similar conditions will prove a popular choice amongst punters.
Road to Riches won this race last year and has been teed up nicely for a repeat after winning around Clonmel. Djakadam was very impressive on his return to action earlier this month and as such make this up to be one eagerly anticipated clash.
At bigger prices, the gifted Sire De Champs and the John Kiely trained Carlingford Lough if back to something like their best could certainly be involved.
Betting (Top Four) Advised 1pt win Djakadam
Don Poli 11/10
Road to Riches 5/2
Sir Des Champs 6/1
Coral Welsh National
Chepstow’s biggest meeting of the year on Sunday will climax with the Coral Welsh National which has seen some amazing finishes over the years not least in 2010 when the legend that is A.P. McCoy drove home Synchronised to land the £120,000 prize.
With the ground currently on the heavy side following plenty of rain, the three mile and five furlongs is going to play into the hands of those who enjoy an extreme stamina test.
Past winners Emperor’s Choice and Mountainous look to win it for a second time, and both go into the race on the back of respectable performances. The Venetia William’s trained Emperor’s Choice can’t find a trip long enough and won well last time at Haydock beating Lackamon over a trip just shy of the days assignment.
Those at the fore of the betting market include Midnight Prayer, Upswing and Cogry. Midnight Prayer won the four miler at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014 and made a good return from a long absence at Newbury last month. Upswing continues to progress into an exciting staying chaser for Jonjo O’Neill. A close second to Sausalito Sunrise at Cheltenham's November meeting, he should be in ideal condition for this test. Course winner Cogry, who finished fourth in that race behind Upswing made eyecatching late progress, and this 6-year-old has already tasted his fair share of marathon trips.
For those at bigger prices, Shotgun Paddy, Fourovakind and Bertie Boru could be three that run well under ideal conditions.
One thing is for sure shouldering top weight under these conditions as Black Thunder and O’faolains Boy will do, is going to be one heck of a tough mudder.
Betting (Top Four) Advised 1pt e/w Cogry & Bertie Boru
Midnight Prayer 8/1
O’faolains Boy 9/1