With a couple of blank days in the racing calendar and having spent several hours during each of the past few days trawling through the entries all over the UK and Ireland, here are some of the horses I am most looking forward to seeing over the Festive period.
Duplicate entries (especially with the novices over in Ireland) makes it difficult to be too dogmatic about the chances of all the horses listed and, indeed, several will no doubt be shorter than ideal from a punting perspective (I am referring to the Willie Mullins trained novices here) but their respective Christmas time performances should be monitored closely with the remainder of the season in mind. As ever, my daily selections can be found online at www.betrescue.com and, at this point, I would like to wish all followers and supporters of JPFestival.com a very Merry Christmas and, arguably more importantly, a prosperous 2014. Thanks for a great insightful piece Paul. I would advise readers to pay close attention to the horses mentioned, as the last time that Paul wrote a similar article most of them won! – JP ANALIFET Leopardstown, Boxing Day (Grade 2 juvenile hurdle) Trying to second guess Willie Mullins will prove more difficult than usual this year, given the strength in depth he has among the novice hurdlers this season, but it is safe to assume that Analifet is the trainer’s Triumph Hurdle horse and the filly has looked pretty exciting in winning both starts since arriving from France. She will be pretty short here, but another impressive success will see her tighten her grip at the head of the Triumph market and, given the impression she has made to date, it could be worth stepping in with an ante-post wager before Thursday. BRIGHT NEW DAWN Leopardstown, 29th (Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase) A smart novice hurdler last term, Bright New Dawn has always been viewed upon as a chaser and Dessie Hughes’ six-year-old made a winning debut over fences at Punchestown earlier in the month, jumping well in the main before staying on strongly to fend off Dogora. Hopefully the runner-up will have franked that form by the time of this race (engaged at Limerick on 28th) but, either way, Bright New Dawn looked as though he would come on for that initial experience and he should also improve a bundle for finally meeting 3m for the first time in his career. The son of Presenting faces a couple of talented rivals here in the shape of Ballycasey and the more experienced Morning Assembly, but he is currently trading around the 5/1 mark and looks a fair each-way bet against the front two in the market. This race should be watched closely with the RSA Chase in mind. CAID DU BERLAIS Newbury, 28th (2m2½f novices’ chase) This race has been re-opened so, at the time of writing, the entrants are not known, but expect to see the name of Caid Du Berlais when they are published; the impressive Exeter winner looks to be another smart Paul Nicholls trained novice – the trainer looks to have a strong team this season. Runner-up to Jezki on his reappearance at Down Royal, the son of Westerner jumped for fun when scoring on debut and, while we don’t know the strength of the possible opposition on Saturday, the four-year-old is one I want onside after such a pleasing success last time. CHAMPAGNE FEVER Leopardstown, Boxing Day (Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase) Willie Mullins had two possible options for this race, but it was always likely that he would rely on the dual Cheltenham Festival winner Champagne Fever, who bids to enhance his Arkle Trophy credentials. The grey made a really pleasing start to his chase career over 2m4f at Punchestown last month and the drop back in trip should not be an issue. Rather like Analifet, he could easily harden further for Festival glory if providing his connections with a third straight success in this Grade 1 event. CLEVER COOKIE Leicester, 28th (2m handicap hurdle – also in at Kempton) Runner-up to Full Shift at Newcastle recently, Peter Niven’s dual bumper winner looks to have been handed a workable opening mark of 115 and preference would definitely be for Leicester over a probable stronger race at Kempton. The unknown with Clever Cookie is the ground, as he has not raced on anything other than good, but he is highly regarded so I suspect connections will not risk his handicap mark on ground deemed unsuitable. CLONDAW COURT Leopardstown, Boxing Day (2m2f maiden hurdle – holds 4 other entries in the week) Favourite for the Champion Bumper after winning a heavy ground six-runner bumper at Punchestown last November, Clondaw Court was forced to miss the Festival and has not been sighted since. Clearly ready to roll now (given the number of entries he holds), the son of Court Cave looks another hugely exciting prospect for Willie Mullins and owner Rich Ricci. He can make up for lost time by making a winning hurdles debut this week – the six-year-old has been declared to make his return in the maiden hurdle which Cousin Vinny won for the stable back in 2008. COYABA Cheltenham, 1st Jan (1m6½f Listed junior bumper) At the time of writing there are no entries available for Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture, but Coyaba is the name I am most looking forward to seeing in the concluding junior bumper. Martin Keighley’s Midnight Legend gelding, who is closely related to the same owners’ Letsby Avenue, won a very slowly run affair at Ffos Las, before making it two from two in impressive fashion at Towcester. Having travelled strongly throughout, he powered up the hill, suggesting the extra mile at Cheltenham will play to his strengths. He showed on debut that he can handle testing ground and, while we do not know who will be taking him on at this stage, it will take a smart youngster to prevent him completing the hat-trick. DIAMOND KING Doncaster, 29th (2m3½f NH novices’ hurdle) Having relinquished his unbeaten record at Bangor recently, Diamond King could be on somewhat of a retrieval mission for many, but he would have won fairly comfortably that day had he not made a right mess of the last, and he is worth another chance now he is upped in trip. The dual bumper winner looks ready for this longer distance and, with the ground at Doncaster likely to be better than anywhere else in the forthcoming days this looks the ideal race for him. GET BACK IN LINE Newbury, 28th (2m5f handicap hurdle) Having missed a possible engagement at Kempton on Thursday, Get Back In Line now has the option of heading back to Newbury on Saturday for what could turn out to be a less competitive affair. The winner of a decent Catterick novices’ hurdle in February, he unseated when held up off a slow pace in the Gerry Feilden here last month and the step up in trip and easier ground should ensure improvement is forthcoming. Still unexposed, he should also relish a strongly run contest. Of the possible opponents, Nicky Henderson’s representative would warrant respect, though the ground will be against Minella Forfitness and Whisper has had his jumping issues this term. Paul Nicholls’ Black River is probably most interesting of the remainder, having fallen here at the Hennessy meeting on his chase debut. MOYLE PARK Leopardstown, 27th (Grade 1 Future Champion Novice Hurdle) Willie Mullins last took this Grade 1 in 2008 with Hurricane Fly and, though he still has four engaged at the time of writing, I suspect Moyle Park might be the one to represent the all-conquering stable. He cost connections no less than £250,000 after winning a bumper at this meeting last year and he started to repay the hefty price tag by landing the Goffs Land Rover Bumper at Punchestown in April. An easy winner on his hurdles debut recently, the unbeaten five-year-old can take the step up in class in his stride and maintain his 100% record. The same connections have Vautour and Renneti engaged here, too, but it is hoped that Moyle Park is allowed to take his chance and that Royal Bond winner The Tullow Tank runs and sets the market. MY TENT OR YOURS Kempton, Boxing Day (Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle) Having nailed my Champion Hurdle colours to My Tent Or Yours as early as April (prior to his Aintree romp), things have gone to plan so far, in that I expected him to kick off his season with a winning return in the Fighting Fifth and I’m sure he will have improved since Newcastle. The turn of foot The New One showed after the last at Cheltenham and the persistent rain that is anticipated is slightly tempering my enthusiasm somewhat, but, as long as the ground isn’t too testing, I’m expecting the son of Desert Prince to show us exactly what he is made of on Thursday, on a track that should play to his strengths. PROVO Wincanton, Boxing Day (2m5f novices’ chase) Paul Nicholls and Nick Scholfield have teamed up to win the past two renewals of this novices’ chase, with Rangitoto and Rolling Aces, and Provo could well make it three in a row for the local trainer. A 12 length course winner over hurdles last October (had the useful Twelve Roses back in third that day) he failed to justify short odds at Exeter the following month, but he was probably facing a really stiff task in trying to concede 7lbs to Cloudy Copper, who followed up at Kempton. That race has thrown up several winners and the son of Presenting appeals as the type to improve for fences. Off the track for 407 days and returning in a fairly warm event, hopefully the six year old will be slightly overlooked in the market. If today isn’t his day, be sure to keep tabs on him in the future, as he is a nice type. And, talking of Paul Nicholls’ record on this card, he has saddled the winner of the bumper for leading owner Graham Roach three times in recent years – Be Be King (2004), Pepporoni Pete (2005) and The Nightingale (2007) – and the pair are represented by Sergeant Thunder on Thursday. He cost £72,000 after winning a Ludlow bumper for Charlie Brooks in April and is clearly one for trends followers.
Paul Ferguson @PaulFergusonJTF