A marathon of festive racing in Britain and Ireland will soon be upon us. There is plenty of high-quality action to look forward to. As ever, Christmas Day for horse racing fans truly falls on the 26th – be it St Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day – and as ever, the wait teases.
Below, are eight horses worth adding to your festive shortlists, in my opinion anyway. A list of five seemed too short, but ten too far, with the family throwing sweet Irish Coffees in my direction at every possible juncture. We are a dysfunctional bunch, but they are my bunch.
I hope you and your bunch have a good Christmas and all the best for 2019.
Harry Fry’s inmate came from what looked an impossible position to get up and win a handicap hurdle at Haydock on Betfair Chase day. Having jumped off in what looked an ideal place, he drifted back through the field and was outpaced turning for home. Approaching three out under Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, the pair had about seven lengths to make up in the straight, but they came with a late withering run to get up and win snugly. It looked like the progressive six-year-old overcame a pace bias to score, and with a more straight forward run back up in trip, he can go well again for his inform trainer.
The prospect of getting back on proper soft ground with old ally Tom O’Brien in the saddle could see Colin Tizzard’s Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up back in the winners’ enclosure in what looks a Welsh Grand National lacking a real star. On ground quicker than ideal off what were solid fractions throughout in the Ladbrokes Trophy, the strong-staying six-year-old was maybe just going a stride quicker than ideal. Some sloppy jumps late didn’t help, but O’Brien (should he ride) may be able to help in that department, especially on more suitable terrain. Off 151, he still looks fairly treated. It’s just worth bearing in mind, Colin Tizzard has reported “a few snotty noses” in the yard, but hopefully Elegant Escape (5/1) hasn’t been affected.
I remain unconvinced the brilliant Apple’s Jade and the classy Supasundae are at their very best over three miles, which means a typically sound front-running ride from Ruby Walsh – where he sets solid, even fractions – could see the former Champion Hurdler bag another Grade 1 at the age of 10. It is surely clear for all to see now, that Faugheen no longer has the sprinting legs of the top two-milers in the game, but that doesn’t say he can’t be a force over staying trips. The 6/1 on offer against the slight odds-on favourite Apple’s Jade certainly looks a bet; especially if the old boy is able to stretch the stamina reserves of his closest market rivals.
Paul Nicholls’s improving grey gets the nod in what looks an open 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Every major contender in this year’s renewal has some form of drawback, and while the selection is no different – with stamina not assured – he at least comes into the race at the top of his game. A smooth traveller that jumps efficiently, there will likely be fewer going as well on the turn for home. Should Sam Twiston-Davies be able to save ground down the inner while Bristol De Mai, Coneygree, Native River and Might Bite all take each other on up front, he might just be able to pick up the pieces and win his trainer a tenth King George.
The prospect of even quicker Christmas ground than normal at Leopardstown means Noel Meade’s charge looks to hold an incredibly strong hand in the Grade 1 Savills Chase. With a run under his belt this season, where he returned in great style to win the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, ante-post prices of 3/1 underplay this seven-year-old’s chance, and ability. The return to a left-handed track is another positive for the son of Gamut, who bids to win back-to-back renewals. He would be a strong fancy and maybe the best bet of Christmas.
The opening Novices' Hurdle that kicks off the Boxing Day action at Kempton has attracted a small but select six-runner field. It’s an intriguing race where, for my money, in terms of raw ability, little separate the first five in the market. While he comes with risks, Harry Whittington’s charge looks overpriced in a race he could dominate. The Kate & Andrew Brooks-owned horse is a lovely type with extremely solid hurdling form, and while a habit to edge left around this track, on top of sometimes awkward hurdling, is a worry, if those were ironed out, the 11/1 available could look pretty big after.
Nicky Henderson’s novice chaser was one of the many casualties in a truly bonkers race at Sandown on December 7, but he might be able to make amends over the festive period if taking his chance at Chepstow on the 27th. The son of Stowaway made a nice start to the campaign over hurdles (2m4f), when looking outpaced before the long run for home, but he stuck on nicely to eventually finish second to a winner who dominated from the get-go. He only jumped two fences before coming to grief last time out, but he looked assured in that small sample, and Thursday’s step up in distance to circa three miles looks a plus.
Operating at a 14% strike-rate, Evan Williams has his string in good order at the moment. That is clearly a desired positive when it’s not hard to imagine this progressive six-year-old has been trained to peak on Wales’s premier racing occasion, Welsh Grand National day at Chepstow. In an all-family affair, with his daughter Isabel likely set to take the ride, the just shy of three mile contest looks to have been the plan on what is a special day of racing in Wales for the Welsh family. The son of Nickname made a lovely seasonal reappearance in a warm Newbury handicap when not ideally positioned to land a blow; that form looks solid so with progress likely returning to a track he has winning form at, a bold bid looks on the cards.