There was the prospect of heavy showers for Kempton on Wednesday, but the forecast was dry over Christmas and the ground for the Boxing Day feature meeting is likely to be no worse than good to soft – with good places.
I was very disappointed that Third Time Lucki (12.40) lost his unbeaten record over hurdles at Cheltenham last time but am convinced this easier track on better ground will see him in a better light. Fourth in the Champion Bumper back in March, Harry Skelton’s five-year-old was a facile winner of two moderate novice hurdles before finishing runner up in Grade 2 company when he travelled well but failed to pick up having given the winner too much rope on soft ground. There was 13/8 available on Wednesday afternoon but he is 6/4 at the time of posting.
Flic Ou Voyou finished third in a Haydock listed contest last time when he chased what was, arguably, too strong a gallop. The winner ran a terrific race in Grade 2 company last time, and I feel the Paul Nicholls trained 6-y-old goes into the race with similar levels of form to the Skelton runner, irrespective of their official marks. Both previous dual winners must carry 8lbs worth of penalties, but I would be surprised if the winner did not come from the penalised runners.
The 2m 4f Novice Handicap Chase is an absolute belter and I am loath to desert another Skelton trained runner Alnadam who did us a favour at Sandown last time and could have been raised by more than the 8lbs the handicapper has put him up. The early price of 5/2 puts me off in such a competitive contest, however.
I know connections of Son Of Camas were confident of a big run on his seasonal reappearance over timber, but he ran a shocker and has now pulled up in his last couple of starts. He makes his chase debut this afternoon for Nicky Henderson who has saddled the winner of the race twice in recent years.
Hold The Note does not stay 3m and is a fascinating contender dropped in trip while Mr One More ran an eye-catching race on his return from a long absence at Chepstow last month. Today’s step up in trip will suit.
The each way vote, however, goes to Killer Clown (1.15) who is 9lbs better off with Alnadam – well 6lbs if you take jockey’s allowance into consideration – for the 8L he was behind the winner at Sandown. I felt he made a significant error at the first of the Railway fences second time but jumped very well in the main and today’s better ground should see him in an even better light. He gets the ew vote at 7/1 with 10bet.
The first of the Grade 1’s is the Kauto Star Novice Chase, and The Big Breakaway will appreciate the return to 3m having been readily outpaced at Exeter when, surprisingly, dropped back to an extended 2m 3f last time. If The Cap Fits is the highest rated horse in the race, but I am a big fan of Shan Blue (1.50) and would be disappointed if he lost his unbeaten record over fences.
The selection – 2s with BetVictor – was no great shakes over hurdles, but he has hardly put a foot wrong in two impressive wins over fences and he can land the hat-trick on what is a very big day for Team Skelton.
Champion Hurdler Epatante (2.25) cannot be opposed in the Christmas Hurdle but the King George is a terrific renewal.
I would be surprised if Santini – supplemented for the race by connections – had the necessary pace for this test but if there is a Gold Cup winner in the field it is the Henderson runner. This is something of a retrieval mission for Lostintranslation after his poor run on heavy ground at Haydock, but today’s better ground will suit. In my opinion the 3m 1f Bowl at Aintree in the spring is his best chance of Grade 1 glory this term.
Dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux is a worthy favourite but I was hugely impressed with the performance of Cyrname (3.00) at Wetherby in the 3m Charlie Hall when he just had to be pushed out to give weight and a beating to Vinndication. The latter came down five out in the Ladbrokes Trophy next time when going well – it is likely that he would have finished second.
The selection – 2/1 with Unibet – was beaten over 20L into second in the corresponding race 12 months ago, but he had had a hard race against Altior prior to that contest and I am convinced that was not his running. Stable jockey Harry Cobden again favours Cyrname over his stablemate. I would be surprised if the prize did not go back to Ditcheat for the 11th time and it is Cyrname for me.
A cracking card at Wetherby and I hope to see Kilbrook (2.40) run a big race from an opening mark of 122 in the handicap hurdle over 2m 5f. The selection was no match for Valleres of Alan King – beaten 6L – here back in October but the winner is now rated 135 and Jonjo O’Neill’s lightly-raced five-year-old – who has had a wind operation since his last start – gave the impression this step up in trip would see him in a better light. Adrian Heskin has a rare ride for the yard on his return from injury.
Rose Of Arcadia (12.25) lost her unbeaten record when finishing fourth at Ffos Las on her hurdles debut, but that was at a time when the Colin Tizzard yard were largely out of sorts and she is another who has had her wind operated on since her last start. She can take the Wincanton opener. The opening 9/4 looks fair.
I think Sizing Cusimano (1.34) will appreciate dropping back in trip having looked a non-stayer over 3m 6f at Exeter earlier in the month. The selection has been dropped 2lbs for that effort and I remember him finishing third at Taunton last season and thinking he had a real future as a staying chaser. Brendan Powell has a good book of rides at Wincanton.The each way recommendation is 11/2 in the opening salvos.