If the main meetings go ahead on Boxing Day there will be plenty of quality racing for the National Hunt enthusiasts and some tricky puzzles to solve from a punting angle.
Kempton seems the obvious place to start and I will tackle the races in race card order. Dual bumper winner Bellvano looked a very bright prospect when making a successful hurdles bow at Newbury and he certainly sets the standard in the 12.45. He is yet to encounter really testing conditions which could be a concern depending upon the state of the going. He does look by far the most likely winner however. The main threat could come from Menorah who was beaten by a useful looking type in Bobby Ewing last time out. He had previously won a bumper at Naas and a novice hurdle at Warwick. Bellvano is the selection with Menorah the next best.
In the handicap hurdle at 1.20 Clova Island is worth considering. He has only had 7 runs over hurdle and has never run a bad race. He has run well at Kempton on his only previous visit finishing runner up to Somersby just over a year ago and he followed that up with a win at Taunton last December. He was a staying on 4th on his last start behind the runaway winner Spirit River. Tomorrow’s race is over a further half a mile which should suit
Long Run come into the 1.55 with a mighty reputation from his efforts in France where he has won 8 of his 12 starts, all at Auteil most recently in a Grade 1 chase last month. Ogee comes into the race on the back of wins at Bangor and Uttoxeter but will not want the ground too soft and seems unlikely to get his ideal conditions. Tazbar was rated 157 over hurdles and made a winning start to his career over the larger obstacles at Musselburgh. He could be the one to benefit if the favourite disappoints on his first run outside France but Long Run has to be the selection. Tazbar has a good record racing right handed and is the danger.
Go Native was most impressive when winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and a repeat of that performance would make him a very live contender for the Christmas Hurdle at 2.30. He has plenty going for him; his trainer has a good record in the race and the horse has a potent turn of foot and the track should suit him. Binocular (pictured below) is on something of a retrieval mission having been most disappointing in the Fighting Fifth.
He is unbeaten going right handed though and the Fighting Fifth was something of a messy race. If we ignore that run then Binocular would take some beating on his earlier form. I see these two as the main contenders with Starluck perhaps the best of the outsiders. At the time of penning these notes (Christmas Eve) odds of around 5/4 are available about Binocular and I inclined to view that as value.
The main event is of course the King George at 3.05. It is perhaps stating the obvious but Kauto Star (pictured below) has proved himself to be a very difficult horse to beat.
He would appear to have just about everything going for him on Boxing Day and he is very difficult to oppose. Imperial Commander is the obvious danger as the pair were only separated by the shortest of noses at Haydock last month. With Kauto 1/2 and Imperial Commander 6/1 though does that make the Twiston-Davies horse the better value? Perhaps so. If you look hard enough it is possible to pick holes in the Commander’s armoury. Is he better going left handed? Is he best fresh? Maybe but given the big differential between the odds he does look potential value. Of the rest Albertas Run, and Deep Purple look the each way shots to consider.
Vodka Brook is a horse I have always liked. He has run well to be placed in both his starts over fences so far. He is not the biggest and has to shoulder 11 stone 11 in the 3.40 but as long as the ground is not too testing, he would not want it really soft, he gets my tentative selection.
At Leopardstown the Grade 1 novice chase at 2.20 looks an intriguing contest. The pair that make most appeal are Sizing Europe and Osana. Sizing Europe is the selection.
In the 1.20 Alaivan, an easy winner at Gowran Park lines up against Cross Appeal who won a Grade 3 at Leopardstown. A listed winner on the flat when trained by John Oxx Alaivan looks a class act and is preferred. Prince of Milan is my each way suggestion in the bumper that brings the Leopardstown card to a close at 3.30. Mr Cracker stepped up on previous efforts when 4th at Navan earlier this month and if that improvement continues he should go well in the 12.45.
There is also a strong card at Limerick on Boxing Day where Sports Line is my selection for the Grade 2 novice chase at 2.10. He beat a strong looking field at Navan last month and impressed with his jumping.
Quiscover Fontaine started his career by winning a bumper and went on to win 3 of his 5 starts over hurdles. The way he jumped hurdles suggested that he would take to fences and he makes his debut over the larger obstacles in the Limerick 3.15. He has shown a liking for soft ground although he won his bumper on good going.
At Huntingdon Moorlands Teri should give us a run for our money in the 12.05. She was given plenty of experience in bumpers winning 2 of her 5 starts in that sphere and she has already got off the mark over hurdles winning at Uttoxeter. She handles any going and is an out and out galloper who should be suited by the track.
I tipped Devon Native when he was runner up at Leicester and I will stick with him to gain compensation in the 1.15.
My selections for Wincanton are;
12.35 – Chilli Rose; 1.10 – Good Man Jack: 3.25 – Andytown (danger Nampour): 3.55 – Robin Will.
My only selection at Down Royal is Top Twig in the 3.00.
My thanks to Sarah Clegg (Binocular) and Lisa Miller (Kauto Star) for the pictures used today.