The Welsh National has been postponed until Saturday 9th January but we do have top class jumps racing from Kempton and Leopardstown, and Limerick, postponed yesterday, are still hopeful of beating the elements and they will run the rearranged Grade 2 Novice Chase weather permitting where I hope to see Free Expression (1.35) reverse Punchestown form with Outlander for Gordon Elliot.
Kempton’s feature is the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase and two former Champion chasers go head-to-head in Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre (1.40) and the latter must get the vote after coming back to something like his very best form when winning the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month by a long looking 14 lengths from Somersby.
The 9-year-old must back that performance up if he is to be a realistic contender to regain his 2m Chasing crown and he won’t have things his own way with Sire De Grugy in opposition. The latter was another who was below par last term but won the Tingle Creek at Sandown earlier in the month and is another who looks to be coming back to his very best. Vibrato Valtat receives 4lbs from the principles and old warrior Somersby 10lbs so this is not a two horse race but it is Sprinter Sacre for me.
The Wayward Lad is a wonderful contest and the battle for the lead between Ar Mad and Arzal will be pivotal, but I hope they take each other on up front and hope Vaniteux (1.25) can pick up the pieces. Nicky Henderson has saddled the winner of this race three times in the last five years with horses including Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig and the selection’s jumping was exemplary when making a winning chase debut over C&D last month.
The 3m Handicap Chase on the card was won by Ballinvarig (2.35) 12 months ago from a mark just 1lb higher than this afternoon and he can follow up. The selection was 3/1 favourite last year but is not in the same form going into today’s race and is likely to be a double figure price. There were only eight runners last year and the selection has never won in a field bigger than 11 but the Tom George stable are in good form and Ballinvarig must go close if getting into a nice rhythm.
Tagrita (3.10) is another of something of a retrieval mission having performed moderately in a light campaign last season for Paul Nicholls; the handicapper has certainly given her a chance and first time out may be the time to catch her.
The finale is a fascinating 15-runner handicap hurdle; Monsieur Gibraltar was backed as if defeat was out of the question at Chepstow back in October but found nothing and is best watched off top-weight. Two Taffs (3.40) will get further in time but if getting a strong pace can score for Dan Skelton. The selection finished runner up over C&D last month and is entitled to improve again given that was only his third career start and second over timber. An opening mark of 125 looks manageable.
Un De Sceaux (1.15) can land the Grade 1 feature at Leopardstown making a belated seasonal reappearance for Willie Mullins. The antepost favourite for the Champion Chase there is sure to be something of a shake-up in the betting for Cheltenham with Un De Sceaux and the best of the British all in action.
The big betting race of the day is the Paddy Power Chase and the selection is Sumos Novios (2.55) who created a very favourable impression when scoring at Punchestown last time and his 9lbs penalty sees him get into the race off 10st 6lbs. He is currently a 12/1 shot at BetVictor and can reward each way support.