Christmas is a great time for the racing fan as it marks the half way in the National Hunt season and is generally the time of year to see all the stars out doing their stuff. This year is no exception with Vautour, Faugheen, The New One, Kalkir, Hurricane Fly and many more potential superstars to see but it is the big betting races that really get the juices running.
King George, Kempton
This is the big Grade 1 for the staying chasers at this time of year and it promises to be a great renewal. Silviniaco Conti, Cue Card and Dynaste are familiar foes now and the current form suggests that Silviniaco Conti is a strong favourite to land his second King George. However, he is a grinding stayer and with a dry forecast, he may struggle to bring his staying power into play, leaving the race more open. Cue Card looks to be regressing following his layoff with injury and he failed to see out the trip last year.
With the Pipe team in such good form, this could be the time for Dynaste to step up. He looks to have the ideal make up for Kempton on a sounder surface and he makes massive appeal each way at the price as it is hard to see him out of the frame.
The huge fly in the ointment though is the Willie Mullins trained, Champagne Fever. This is a seriously class animal who has exceeded expectations hugely in his career so far. Bred to be suited to this sort of distance, he has excelled over shorter and he doesn’t fit any of the statistics of a typical King George winner. However, if Ruby Walsh can get him into a good rhythm, his exuberant jumping could see him turn this race into a procession, so he has to be the selection
Welsh National, Chepstow
This is another big highlight of the Christmas period. Nearly always run on heavy ground, the Welsh National is a real war of attrition. One of the key statistics is that nearly all of the previous winners had previous course form, a statistic that rules out Midnight Prayer at the head of the market. Shotgun Paddy has some impressive course form and has been specifically targeted at the race by the shrewd Emma Lavelle team. He looks well handicapped and will be very effective over the distance, so goes there with a huge chance.
The trial run at the course is also a good source of the prominent runners. This year, that race was won by Rebecca’s Choice from Amigo with last year’s runner up, Hawkes Point back in third. It is not hard to envisage all these being to the fore and it was interesting to hear Dai Burchell, trainer of Rebecca’s Choice, talk fondly of his charge and how the win would have set him up for the big one. Hawkes Point was a narrow loser last year and you can see he is being prepared specifically by Paul Nicholls but he is probably that bit too high in the weights now.
Paddy Power, Leopardstown
This is the richest handicap chase run in Ireland over the period and it will be run at a furious gallop throughout. As always with this race it is full of plots and it is usually one of these that will take the prize.
Foxrock for the Ted Walsh team attracted plenty of interest when he stayed on nicely for third behind Gallant Gesture at Fairyhouse. However, it appears he is overhyped and his is already a very short price for such a competitive race.
JP McManus usually has a strong team running but invariably one of his runners will attract support. The McManus runner that really catches the eye this time round is the Christy Roche trained, Groody Hill. This 8 year old has really returned to form this autumn and could be reaching his peak for this event.
Tony Martin is another stable to look out for and he has been preparing the progressive Gallant Oscar by running him over hurdles. He will be ready for this and could be a big danger to all.