A Thrilling Kempton Christmas Gathering

I went out and bought the Christmas TV magazine yesterday, and have started circling all the programmes that will excite me during the holiday period.

The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio and Shrek 2, instantly caught the eye. However, there’s no doubting the highlight at this time of year, and I don’t mean Christmas Top Of The Pops.

The channel may have changed, but Boxing Day racing from Kempton remains my ‘numero uno’ (The Wizard Of Oz is a close runner-up). The King George VI Chase is one of the most thrilling races of the winter with a truly wondrous roll of honour. Last year’s renewal was truly ‘Joyful and Triumphant’ for Team Tizzard, as Thistlecrack swept far more experienced chasers aside, to win in the style of a superstar. Things haven’t gone to plan since, but one of Jump racing’s major player’s is back for more, with his jockey at Kempton hopeful of a repeat performance.

Tom Scudamore told At The Races: “It felt like he had all his old spark, but just got tired from going to the second last (Newbury Long Distance Hurdle). He'd suffered an injury at Cheltenham and had plenty of time off the track. He'd been showing everyone the right signs at home. Joe and Colin (Tizzard) were happy with him, but unfortunately the time he had off just got the better of him at Newbury. Colin and Joe tell me he's been going very well at home, but the proof in the pudding will be on Boxing Day.”

Ruby Walsh knows a thing or two about Kempton’s showpiece, having ridden Kauto Star to a record-breaking five victories. Still recovering from injury, he believes that Nicky Henderson has the leading contender. Speaking to Racing UK he said: “Strictly going on novice form and the performance he was putting up in last year's Feltham, I'd be leaning towards Might Bite. I rode in his RSA and the gallop he went was phenomenal. Kempton will suit him, going right-handed. I think he'll be very hard to beat.”

Walsh also spoke of the Betfair Chase winner, Bristol De Mai, saying: “If we were to get a drop of rain and the track was to get a bit slower, then Bristol De Mai would have a chance. I would say he is an unbelievably strong stayer and that’s why, on testing ground, he just goes the same speed as he would on good ground and it kills off the opposition. I’m not saying he won’t go on good ground, it’s just can he burn the opposition off to the same effect as he does on soft ground?"

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Should trainers and connections hold their nerve, this looks to be a thrilling renewal, with a feel of the ‘changing of the guard’. We have a pair of six-year-olds in Bristol De Mai and Disko. The former fresh from that stunning success at Haydock, and the latter highly regarded by his trainer Noel Meade, and talked of as a Gold Cup prospect. There’s a trio of seven-year-old's, including Tizzard’s classy Tingle Creek runner-up Fox Norton, who steps-up in trip having come-up just short at two-miles. The race favourite; Henderson’s Might Bite, is just eight, and though Thistlecrack and Whisper are both nine, they have very few chase outings to their name.

The decision not to send Sizing John over for the prestigious event came as no surprise. But arguably the biggest name lacking from this year’s line-up is that of trainer Paul Nicholls. He’s won the race seven times in the past 11 years, with Kauto Star and Silviniaco Conti proving Kempton heroes.

Politologue’s win in the Tingle Creek at Sandown would have come as a huge relief to the Ditcheat handler, but the lack of a quality staying chaser in the yard will be hugely frustrating. The performance of Clan Des Obeaux last week at Cheltenham, will give hope of a Nicholls renaissance in this division. By next Christmas, he could be the one making his presence felt in the Christmas showpiece.

Colin Tizzard and Nicky Henderson have shared four of the last seven renewals and both have a pair of strong contenders this time around. Nigel Twiston-Davies will hope to spoil the party, but there’s no doubting that the staying chase landscape, and to some extent the Grade One picture, continues to change, with Team Ditcheat rarely invited to the gathering.

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