The festive period is one of the busiest parts of the national hunt calendar in horse racing. Not only are there a number of Grade One races in the UK, most notably the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, but there is plenty of high-class action in Ireland too.
Here are five tips to follow over Christmas which will hopefully give you plenty to cheer about during the holiday season.
Cue Card – King George VI Chase – Kempton – December 26
Cue Card is set to return to Kempton later this month where he will be defending his crown in the King George VI Chase. Colin Tizzard’s chaser was successful in this race 12 months ago when he just got the better of Vautour in a close finish on Boxing Day.
“Cue Card” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Carine06
Just like in 2015, Cue Card goes into the Grade One chase with a chance of winning the £1 million bonus available to the connections of any horse which wins the Chase Triple Crown this season. The 10-year-old scored in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month and if he wins at Kempton, he will need to just be victorious in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at the Festival in March, as reported in the Oddschecker Cheltenham Festival Diary.
Cue Card defeated his nearest rival in the betting for the King George, Coneygree, at Haydock by 15 lengths. He was clearly much fitter than he was at Wetherby, where he could only finish third in the Charlie Hall Chase.
Although Coneygree will be expected to improve at Kempton on the back of his first run in nearly a year, it is difficult to see the former Gold Cup winner reversing the form with Cue Card in the King George, and therefore the defending champion should be backed at 13/8 to come out on top.
Thistlecrack – Kauto Star Novices Chase – Kempton – December 26
It looks like connections of Thistlecrack will opt for the Kauto Novices Chase on Boxing Day at Kempton rather than the King George. The novice chaser has looked flawless in his three starts over fences this season.
In his last run at Newbury, the 2016 World Hurdle winner landed a Grade Two contest in a step up in class. He went off at 1/8 in the betting where he made all to score by eight lengths ahead of Bigbadjohn and Ibis Du Reheu respectively.
The aim at the end of the season for Thistlecrack will be the Cheltenham Gold Cup, where he is the 7/2 favourite so he should be able to prevail easily in this novice race, just like Coneygree did in 2014 en route to his Gold Cup success.
The New One – Christmas Hurdle – Kempton – December 26
At the start of this season The New One was set to be campaigned over fences. He was declared to make his chase debut at Exeter but the meeting was abandoned due to a frozen track. That then led to connections entering their horse in the Grade Two International hurdle earlier this month where he was successful by over three lengths ahead of My Tent of Yours.
His performance at Cheltenham has forced his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies to change his plans and the eight-year-old will now bid to win the Champion Hurdle in March. If he repeats his run in the International Hurdle, he could be good enough for this Grade One success at Kempton to enhance his claims for the 2m hurdle contest at the festival.
Carole’s Destrier – Welsh Grand National – Chepstow – December 27
If the Hennessy Gold Cup was run over an extra 100 yards than the 3m2f trip, Carole’s Destrier would probably have won the 2016 contest ahead of Native River as she was staying on really strongly at Newbury but had to settle for second place.
“Chepstow Races” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by amandabhslater
Neil Mullholland’s chaser should relish the 3m5f trip at Chepstow for the Welsh Grand National, which is normally run on soft or heavy ground. She looks a real staying type and if successful in this contest, she is likely to be seen at Aintree, where she’ll be looking to complete the rare double in the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Djakadam – Lexus Chase – Leopardstown – December 28
Djakadam is arguably the most consistent 3m chaser in training today anywhere in the UK and Ireland. In his last nine starts, he has only once been out of the frame and that was when he fell at Cheltenham in the Cotswold Chase back in January.
Willie Mullins’ runner finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March and will return to Prestbury Park again for the festival.
The seven-year-old was the impressive winner of the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown last weekend where he beat Black Hercules and Sub Lieutenant. Mullins’ horse could be set for a big campaign so he has to be favoured in a Lexus Chase which could include Valseur Lido and Many Clouds.