Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with nine to follow on Saturday at Kempton, Market Rasen, Sedgefield, Wincanton, Limerick and Leopardstown.
The King George VI Chase is the highlight of a fantastic Boxing Day card at Kempton but there is rain forecast and conditions are likely to ride more testing than the current official going description of good to soft (soft in places).
Having considered Don Cossack (3.10) a good thing for the race, with the race likely to be run to suit, I would be less confident if the word heavy appeared in the going description. The selection has won eight of his last nine starts and was, arguably, unlucky not to finish closer in the Ryanair, his sole defeat during the period, when he was hampered at an important stage at Cheltenham.
Cue Card has been a revelation so far this season winning both starts in the manner of a, seemingly, improved performer. He didn’t jump as well as Silviniaco Conti at Haydock last time but still picked up the Paul Nicholls-trained runner. Colin Tizzard, trainer of Cue Card, insists his stablestar is a different proposition this term but can he make it fourth time lucky having finished 5th, 2nd & 2nd in the last three renewals of this valuable and prestigious race?
The best horse in the race is, arguably, Vautour but the combination of soft ground, 3m and a right-handed track is less than ideal and I expect him to contest and win the Ryanair Chase at the Festival in the spring.
King George VI prices: EW ¼ first 3 prices from BetVictor
Don Cossack 9/4
Cue Card 7/2
Silviniaco Conti 8/1
Smad Place 9/1
The card opens with a Novice Hurdle over the minimum trip and Altior (12.50) is taken to give Nicky Henderson a third winner of the race in the last five years. The selection has won all three starts over timber and has had to battle hard to win his last couple. He can be a touch keen and this track should suit.
I am surprised that Meet The Legend one of my horse’s to follow for the season makes his hurdles debut in this grade having left the yard of Keith Dalgleish since finishing runner up in an Ayr Bumper back in October. It will be interesting to see what the market suggests on his first start for Dan Skelton and he receives 8lbs from the selection; do note a market move.
The first of the Grade 1’s on the card is the 3m Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and Tea For Two is reluctantly overlooked given he didn’t appear to stay this trip over timber and there will be no hiding place in the last half-mile. Stamina will be of the essence and Native Ruler (2.00) is already proven at the trip and can grind down the opposition having won his last two starts including in Grade 2 company last month. The selection is 15/8 at BetVictor behind Tea For Two (7/4) but I just worry about the latter’s stamina.
Faugheen (1/3) cannot be opposed in the Christmas Hurdle despite suffering defeat at the hands of stablemate Nichols Canyon on his seasonal reappearance at Punchestown last month.
If Gunner Fifteen learns to settle he looks very well handicapped at present for Harry Fry and it will be interesting to see if he is supported again having been very well backed when too keen and pulling away his chance at Haydock coming back from a 12-month lay-off.
It really could be a red-letter day for Colin Tizzard though and Billy No Name (3.45) has only been raised 2lbs for finishing second at Newbury last time when he travelled like the best horse in the race only for the petrol to give way over 3m. This drop in trip should suit and he runs in the colours of Cue Card.
At Market Rasen I was taken with the reappearance of Elmore Back (1.35) returning from a long lay-off at Doncaster last month and trainer Charlie Mann has his string in good form at present.
At Wincanton the form of Pure Poteen’s (1.05) run behind Conas Toi has been franked by the subsequent exploits of the winner and he looks fairly treated from a mark just 2lbs higher for Neil Mulholland.
At Sedgefield Andrew Thornton rides On The Case (1.15) for Tom George before dashing down to Wetherby to ride Galway Jack for Caroline Bailey 100 minutes later. The former is dropping back in trip but the jockey is going all out to 1000 winners and needs about nine at present to reach that milestone.
In Ireland Free Expression (2.10) can reverse form with Outlander for Gordon Elliot in the Grade 2 Novices’ Chase at Limerick whilst the star on show at Leopardstown is Douvan (2.55) who faces three talented rivals in the Grade 1 Novices’ Chase.
Have a fantastic Xmas from all at BetVictor