Jump racing fans must have been especially good this year, because Santa certainly delivered a whole host of goodies. Christmas week is always a thrilling time for National Hunt lovers with terrific meetings at Kempton and Leopardstown, ably supported by Chepstow amongst others. The King George VI Chase is the main event of the week. It has been won by some of the greatest steeplechasers of all time; Arkle, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star are just a few equine heroes to capture the Christmas feature. This year’s race produced another thrilling finish. The Betfair Chase winner Cue Card was fancied to repeat his Haydock success, but in testing ground failed to last home. He forced the issue from the off and looked the winner at the second last fence. But Tizzard’s jumping star began to paddle and he was swamped by Silviniaco Conti. Paul Nicholls’ horse had been the only challenger capable of living with Cue Card. He is a strong stayer and the Cheltenham hill in March is certain to suit. Cue Card is more likely to defend his Ryanair crown, although a crack at the Gold Cup would not be out of the question on a sounder surface. The Christmas Hurdle is always a quality supporting race to the King George. This year’s renewal became a thrilling duel between My Tent Or Yours and The New One. The Kempton track may have suited Nicky Henderson’s horse, but there is no doubting that he had to show battling qualities few thought he had. An error at the last didn’t help The New One and it’s possible that he could turn the form around come March. For me, the only certainty is that they remain very closely matched. I sit on the fence at this stage. Classy seasonal treats continued to arrive, when at Leopardstown Bobs Worth won a terrific Lexus Chase. Another high class field had been assembled and it was Nicky Henderson’s Gold Cup winner that showed his true form, staying on strongly to beat First Lieutenant. Sir Des Champs was back in fourth, but don’t be surprised to see him much closer at Cheltenham, especially if the ground comes up good to soft or better. I remain convinced that Willie Mullins chaser can win the Gold Cup if he gets suitable ground conditions. Last year’s Lexus Chase winner was Tidal Bay. This Christmas he travelled to Wales for the Welsh National at Chepstow. Incredibly, the 12-year-old almost carried top-weight to victory. Heavy ground ensured that the marathon event was its usual test of endurance. The suitably named Mountainous gave an immense performance when running the race of his life to hold off another Paul Nicholl’s runner in Hawkes Point. But of course the story of Christmas, is of people being drawn to a shining star. And this Christmas none shone brighter than the Champion hurdler Hurricane Fly. This is likely to be his toughest season as new challengers arrive from both sides of the Irish Sea. At Leopardstown both Our Conor and Jezki, found the ‘Champ’ in irresistible form. So Christmas had delivered it’s usual packages of pleasure. And with all the crackers pulled, we look forward to 2014, full of excitement and heightened anticipation. Let’s hope Sprinter Sacre has a thrilling part to play. That would be a Christmas gift worth waiting for. Thank you Santa.
3:10 Kempton WILLIAM HILL KING GEORGE VI CHASE (Grade 1) (CLASS 1) (4yo+) 3m
FSF = Form and speed combined rating. Based on the horse’s best performance over the last twelve months. CUE CARD – FSF 161 2013 Ryanair Chase hero, Cue Card showed the benefit of a run at Exeter when scoring convincingly in the Betfair Chase. Allowed to dictate matters that day, he jumped well in the main, sealing the race with a fine jump at the last. It should be noted; he went round glued to the inside of the track while both second and third raced wider for much of the race. One wonders if his rivals will afford him an easy time up front this time round. In addition, his one run at Kempton Park came in this race last year when a disappointing fifth. SILVINIACO CONTI – FSF 159 Returned to action when third to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase. Conceded fitness to the winner that day and travelled well through the race. Reported to have progressed since that run and should be a major player. His top five FSF ratings have all come on left-handed tracks. MENORAH – FSF 158 Seasonal debut. Likes the course and looked to see out three-miles when second to First Lieutenant at Aintree in April. No horse has won this in the past twenty-five years on his seasonal reappearance. Won on heavy ground at this meeting in 2012. AL FEROF – FSF 154 Sustained an injury when taking the 2012 Paddy Power Gold Cup. Returning to action at Ascot in November, he jumped brilliantly to win easily from French Opera. The second upheld the form with an excellent run under top-weight in a handicap at Cheltenham. His breeding suggests three-miles will suit as he is by the same sire as Silviniaco Conti; while the sire of his dam, is also the sire of that horses dam. Travels well through his race and looks sure to be thereabouts. DYNASTE – FSF 154 Bolted up in the Feltham Chase on this card in 2012. Returned to action with a fine second to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase. Conceded fitness to the winner that day and travelled well before finding the winner too strong in the closing stages. With six runs under his saddle over fences, we may not have the best of him. LONG RUN – FSF 154 Dual winner of this race; though form this season has been well below his best. First time visor suggests he is perhaps, not concentrating on the job in hand, after numerous titanic battles both here and in France. CHAMPION COURT (IRE) – FSF 151 Unlucky not to win the Peterborough Chase with his saddle slipping on landing after the final fence. Had a hard race that day and is another not sure to see out the trip. RIVERSIDE THATRE – FSF 151 Returned to something approaching his best when rallying gamely to take the Peterborough Chase. Despite a second in this race in 2011, he does not appeal as one who is sure to see trip out at this level. In addition, his Peterborough Chase win came the hard way just fourteen days ago. MOUNT BENBULBEN (IRE) – FSF 145 Useful chaser on his day with six of his seven wins coming right-handed. Going well when unseating his rider at the fourth last in the JNwine.com Chase at Down Royal in November. Jumping errors have held back his progress over fences though clearly possesses a good engine.