The Christmas racing programme is always stuffed full of thrills, but this year sees any number of National Hunt heavyweights poised to take a starring role. We look forward to five of the most eyecatching contests in prospect over the next few days.
Ladbrokes King George VI Chase, Kempton, December 26
The Christmas showpiece is always an event to savour, but this year’s contest offers a level of intrigue, too. The Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame beat the reopposing Royale Pagaille by 14 lengths in 2022, before going on to chase home Galopin Des Champs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. This season has not gone to plan so far though, with defeats in both the Charlie Hall and Betfair Chase – in which he was beaten by Venetia Williams’ Royale Pagaille – putting a slight question mark over his claims. Shishkin definitely has to answer a question after he refused to race at Ascot on his seasonal bow, leaving the Willie Mullins-trained Allaho seemingly in pole position. An impressive winner at Clonmel on his return from a 561-day injury lay-off, there is no doubting the Irish raider’s class, but can he avoid the dreaded ‘bounce’ factor in Sunbury?
Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle, Kempton, December 26
After the weather put a spanner in the works, Nicky Henderson will finally take the wraps off reigning two-mile champ Constitution Hill at Kempton. After a sterling novice season, the six-year-old made a seamless switch to full company and a 17-length win in this contest preceded a demolition job in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham back in March. It will only be a small field at Kempton, with none of the contenders anywhere near Constitution Hill’s class, so if everything goes to plan, we will not learn too much – but we can hopefully enjoy a true superstar in action.
Racing Post Novice Chase, Leopardstown, December 26
Facile Vega was a headline horse even before he set foot on a track. A son of six-times Festival winner Quevega, by top-ranked jumps sire Walk In The Park, it was little surprise to see the Mullins-trained gelding cut a swathe through the bumper ranks before continuing his effortless progress in his first two starts over hurdles. The wheels came off in dramatic style at the Dublin Racing Festival though, when he raced with the choke out and stopped quickly, before having to settle for second best at Cheltenham and getting back on track at Punchestown. He emerged victorious on his chasing bow, but his jumping was certainly not flawless and it will be interesting to see if he is up to the task in tougher company.
Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase, Chepstow, December 27
The withdrawal of ante-post favourite Monbeg Genius prompted a market shake-up, with Jamie Snowden’s Super Survivor assuming the position at the top of the betting for what is one of the first real markers for the Grand National in April. Iwilldoit won the Welsh edition in 2021 and was among the leading lights for Aintree back in April but could not complete the qualifying criteria in time. A victory in this race would surely thrust him back into the spotlight, though it will be a tough test under top-weight in what is usually testing conditions at Chepstow, with the likes of recent Becher Chase winner Chambard in the mix.
Savills Chase, Leopardstown, December 28
This looks like being a proper Christmas blockbuster, with no less than three Cheltenham Gold Cup hopes set to cross swords. We have the reigning champion, Mullins’ Galopin Des Champs, facing up to his nemesis in Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow. A shock 20-1 winner in the Punchestown Gold Cup, Fastorslow proved that was no flash in the pan when beating Galopin Des Champs into third in the John Durkan on their respective returns. Add into the mix Gerri Colombe, rerouted from Kempton by Gordon Elliott due to concerns about the quicker King George ground. Beaten just once as a novice, he was merely workmanlike in winning Down Royal’s Champion Chase on his reappearance, so this could be something of an acid test for the young pretender.
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