In the words of Shakin’ Stevens, “Merry Christmas Everyone” (released 34 years ago!).
What do I do on Christmas Day (apart from the festivities)? Well, take a good look at the Boxing Day cards of course!
First, a few parish notices. As a one off and no doubt in response to criticism about split screens on congested days , Racing TV is broadcasting a free-to-air dedicated Irish racing programme presented by Gary O’Brien, with all the races from Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal on Freesports (on Freeview HD channel 64, Sky channel 422, Virgin 553, FreeSat 252, TalkTalk 64 and BT Vision channel 64).
Second, Richard Johnson (98), currently second to Brian Hughes (100) in the jockeys’ championship has chosen to take five rides at Fontwell which, on such a prestigious day, must be a notable pointer. His rides are: 12:15 Early Days (11/2), 12:45 I Like Him (7/4), 13:50 Sky Full Of Stars (15/2), 14:25 Dostal Phil (11/8) and 15:00 The Tin Miner (7/2).
Third, as is traditional, the only racing of note on Christmas Day is at Pau. One of my horses to follow, Fret D’Estruval, runs in the 11:15 chase and there is an interesting cross country race at 12:15 featuring Uroquois, who should atone for his unexpected defeat last time out.
12:40 Maiden Hurdle
As might be expected, some decent prospects head the field in this one. I take Joseph O’Brien’s Entoucas (7/2) to beat Mullins’ favourite Mt Leinster (5/2).
13:10 Knight Frank Juvenile (Grade 2)
I see this as between Aspire Tower for Henry de Bromhead (15/8f) and A Wave Of The Sea (5/1), again for Joseph O’Brien, and my preference is for the latter.
14:20 Racing Post Novice Chase (Grade 1)
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This is a legitimate trial for the Arkle and my race of the day. It features the main Irish protagonists, the highly impressive 4-y-o Fakir D’Oudairies (6/4), the equally impressive mare Laurina (6/5) for Willie Mullins and the exciting prospect Notebook (9/1). The Irish definitely have the upper hand in this division and the winner of this one should be the clear favourite for the Cheltenham race in March. I can’t split them and will sit back and enjoy. It’s also worth bearing in mind the 7lb allowances for Fakir D’Oudairies (4-y-o) and Laurina (mare)
12:50 Novices’ Hurdle
We get the card going with a decent head to head between Henderson (Vegas Blue – 2/1) and Nicholls (Ecco – 4/1). Vegas Blue won both bumpers (Bangor and Huntingdon) and Ecco is much more experienced, having been sixth in the Triumph Hurdle and following up with wins at Wincanton and Ascot, before a third in the Grade 2 Supreme Novices’ Trial at Cheltenham last month. I’m prepared to forgive him the last run on testing ground and if I’m right the current 4/1 provides very good value.
13:20 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle
I was at Ludlow to see current favourite Roll Again (3/1) win for very much in form Venetia Williams eight days ago. He went off at 7/2jf but was far from foot perfect and carries a 7lb penalty. Although Venetia is renowned for quick turnarounds, I prefer Doctor Dex at am appealing 15/2.
13:55 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
I’m really looking forward to seeing Master Tommytucker (3/1jf of 3). A fragile horse who has had time off, he won well here over a shorter distance last time out and this should be ideal. Of the rest I respect Slate House.
14:30 Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1)
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Nicky Henderson has the first three in the market (Fusil Raffles, Epatante and Verdana Blue). He couldn’t conceal his excitement about Fusil Raffles (2/1) in a recent interview and he’s a confident selection.
15:05 King George (Grade 1)
Currently the highest rated National Hunt horse and at 3.15 the current 6/4 could turn out to have been very good value indeed. His recent form is faultless but this is his biggest challenge yet and I’m not 100% convinced.
Lost In Transation (15/8)
There is nothing to dislike about his recent form and he is definitely the most progressive. He’s coming here on the back of a facile Betfair Chase win and therefore remains on course for the £1million bonus if he wins and goes on to win the Gold Cup. I think that there’s every chance that he will and become the next big thing in chasing.
Clan Des Obeaux (4/1)
Last year’s winner has been there and done it. However, this is undoubtedly a tougher race and I wasn’t too impressed with his return at Down Royal last month when beaten by Road To Respect, albeit that was probably a pipe opener. It’s also notable that Harry Cobden has chosen to ride Cyrname.
A firm favourite as a novice, there’s no doubt that he has lost his way since then and he needs a striking return to form to feature in the shake up (not out of the question but a very big ask).
Won this race in 2016 and was runner-up last season but surely his best is behind him.
A decent handicapper but ground, distance and form are all against him.
Verdict: I think it’s between the front two in the market and my ready preference is for Lost In Translation (15/8) who, although a 7-y-o like Cyrname, Clan Des Obeaux and Footpad, looks like the one with the greatest capacity to move ahead of the rest. Colin Tizzard has shown time and again that he has the capacity to prepare horses for the biggest assignments and the yard is currently in a rich vein of form.
14:40 Greenmount Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Samcro (8/13f) is a dual Grade 1 winner and was looking like he was getting back to his best when falling while in contention at the second last in a Grade 1 last time out. Timeform have him 10lb ahead of the field (168p).
I’ve previously expressed my view about Faugheen (5/2) going novice chasing when rising 12 and I’m still unconvinced that it’s what he deserves. A genuinely great horse in his day but with a habit of clouting one or two, as on the last occasion, I don’t favour this campaign and hope that he has a safe round.
If Samcro doesn’t get round then I favour Castlebrook (16/1) to spring a surprise.
14:10 Rowland Meyrick Chase (Grade 3)
I think that Lake View Lad (13/2) will show a significant improvement on his last outing. He was an impressive third in the Ultima at the Festival, although appeared not to take to the fences when next seen in the Grand National.
Another Hemmings horse to look out for on the card is the very promising Sammy Bill (10/11f) in the 1.35.
14:45 Bluegrass Hunters’ Chase
This is a high quality race with all the leading contenders of note: Edwulf (6/4), Black Hercules (3/1), Burning Ambition (11/2) and my selection Ucello Conti (7/1).