Racing pundit Tony McCormick from www.irishbigracetrends.com beforetheoff.com and racing radio station racingfm.com looks forward to the five Christmas Crackers run over the festive period.
The William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton will see current champion Silviniaco Conti and Champagne Fever clash in what promises to be one of the races of the season.
Last year’s runner up Cue Card, Grade Three Cheltenham festival winner Holywell, easy Ascot winner Al Ferof and the newly invigorated Menorah were still holding their ground at the latest forfeit stage.
Champagne Fever is the general second favourite for the King George, but Willie Mullins however accepts former stablemate Florida Pearl, who won the King George in 2001, may have been a more potent challenger.
He said: “Champagne has never won at Christmas. He was beaten in a bumper when we thought he was a certainty and he fell last year - maybe it’s not his time of year.
“I saw some trends that King George winners needed to have the other day. I think there were 11 trends and he only qualified on three of them.”
Boxing Day sees the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown whetting the appetite before the big one at Kempton. Danoli, Native Upmanship, Moscow Flyer and, more recently, Sizing Europe have all won and used this race as an important stepping stone on the road to Cheltenham.
Mullins believes Vautour’s jumping technique will stand him in good stead as he prepares to make his second appearance over fences at Leopardstown next week. Last season’s runaway Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero made a seamless transition to the larger obstacles with a foot-perfect display at Navan last month and will step up to Grade One level for the Racing Post Novice Chase on Boxing Day.
The five-year-old is already towards the forefront of ante-post lists for both the Arkle Trophy and the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham next March.
“Vautour was very impressive at Navan. It’s always spectacular when horses stand off a long way at fences, but they need to be just as good in close and he was,” said Mullins.
“In the Supreme it was like he went round on rails and I didn’t think he could keep it up, but he did.
“He jumped hurdles nicely and seems to jump fences just as well.”
Vautour is one of 13 horses in contention for the Racing Post Novice Chase following the latest forfeit stage, with Mullins also responsible for Fairyhouse winners Valseur Lido and Adriana Des Mottes. Other possible runners include Noel Meade’s Chancol, the Enda Bolger-trained Gilgamboa and Clarcam from Gordon Elliott’s yard.
On December 27, Chepstow stages the biggest horse race of the year in Wales. The race was first run in 1895, and it originally took place at Ely Racecourse in Cardiff.
Currently down at number 36 on the list of entries, Oliver Sherwoods, Global Power, needs a couple to come out to get the eight -year-old into the handicap proper.
The gelding went down narrowly in a decent race at Fontwell two weeks ago, signalling a return to his best form. Sherwood said: “Global Power can be tricky, and you have to put him in front late as he sometimes thinks he’s done enough when he hits the front.
“It was nice to see him return to the form he was showing last season and if he gets in he’ll run in the Welsh National.
“More came out than I thought might at the last stage so he has a better chance of getting in than this time last week.
“He’ll be trained for that, anyway, and if he doesn’t get in we’ll go down a different route.”
Boston Bob and On His Own are both in line to represent Mullins in the Lexus Chase, on December 28 at Leopardstown as the champion trainer bids to win one of the Festive period’s biggest prizes for the first time. The three-mile highlight is one of the few big races so have so far eluded the master of Closutton on his native soil and he is this year set to launch a formidable twin assault.
Boston Bob, a winner at Aintree and Punchestown last spring, disappointed on his return to action at Down Royal, but fared better when runner-up to Don Cossack in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
Fellow Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned chaser On His Own, so narrowly denied in a controversial finish to last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, has failed to replicate that form since at either Punchestown in April or Down Royal in November.
“Boston Bob and On His Own will hopefully be fine for the Lexus,” said Mullins. The pair look set to feature in a typically strong Mullins party heading for Leopardstown’s four-day feast.
The legend that is Hurricane Fly will go for his 21st Grade One win, days before he turns 11. The winner of two Champion Hurdles will run in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29.
I’m pleased to be part of the second annual ‘Go Racing In Yorkshire Winter Festival’ where I will be part of the ‘Punters Panel’ with Graham Orange, Niall Hannity, Roger Hunt and commentator Darren Owen before racing at Wetherby’s two-day meeting, before moving on to Catterick on the 28th and Doncaster on the 29th .
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