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Champ headlines Henderson’s dual Gold Cup assault

Champ and Santini give Nicky Henderson a strong hand in his bid for a third victory in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Long Run provided the Seven Barrows handler with his first taste of success in the blue riband in 2011, before the popular Bobs Worth repeated the feat two years later.

The shortest priced of his two runners this year is Champ, who is out to claim a second Festival victory following his memorable last-gasp effort in last year’s RSA Chase.

An autumn wind operation meant the JP McManus-owned gelding missed the first half of the season – and when he did return, he unconventionally ran over just two miles in the Game Spirit at Newbury, performing with huge credit to finish second to Sceau Royal.

“Champ had his wind done, which consequently put us on the back foot,” said Henderson.

“We were aiming for the Denman at Newbury, but when the meeting got put back a week, we came up with the wacky idea of running him over two miles in the Game Spirit. We just felt he was going to have an easier race over two miles rather than over three.

“I was hoping we’d see what we saw as my head was on the chopping block for this ridiculous idea if it didn’t work. Thankfully it went well and his jumping at that pace was exceptional. We all came away very happy and he has been fine since.”

Champ’s stablemate Santini went down by a diminishing neck to Al Boum Photo in last year’s Gold Cup.

The nine-year-old has been a little underwhelming in three starts so far this season, but better is expected on his return to Cheltenham in a first-time visor.

Nicky Henderson with Santini
Nicky Henderson with Santini (David Davies/PA)

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Henderson added: “The Cotswold Chase (at Cheltenham) was off. Sandown took it on, but the ground was desperate on the day. I was satisfied with how he ran and it put us where we wanted him.

“He ran a fantastic race in the Gold Cup last year and I see no reason why he won’t run well again.”

Henry de Bromhead is also double-handed, with Savills Chase winner A Plus Tard joined by Minella Indo.

The latter was only narrowly denied by Champ at last year’s Festival and could hardly have made a more impressive start to this season in winning at Wexford and Navan.

However, he will return to Prestbury Park with something to prove, having fallen when favourite for the Savills Chase and finished only fourth behind Kemboy in last month’s Irish Gold Cup.

Minella Indo is an interesting runner
Minella Indo is an interesting runner (Gary Carson/PA)

“Our plan with Minella Indo was to be busy with him up to Christmas because we thought he lacked experience. He had two great runs at the start, winning a Grade Three and a Grade Two at Wexford and Navan, when he was very impressive,” said De Bromhead.

“Then we went to the Savills and it was disappointing he fell. It wasn’t the plan to run him again before the Gold Cup, but obviously we couldn’t go off the back of a fall, so looking at all our options we plumped for the Irish Gold Cup and I thought he ran respectably.

“We were adamant he needed a clear round and we got that. Kemboy got away from us after a mistake, but he still ran well.”

Native River, who won an epic Gold Cup in 2018, is out to become the first horse since Kauto Star to regain the crown.

The popular Colin Tizzard-trained 11-year-old also finished third in 2017 and fourth in 2019, but missed out last year through injury.

Tizzard, who will hand over the licence to his son Joe in the coming weeks, said: “He’s beaten the better English chasers and he’s the top-rated chaser in England.

“The fact that he’s 11 is why he’s a 16-1 shot. If he was an eight-year-old I’m sure he’d be in the first three in the betting.

“He’s in cracking form. He’s a Gold Cup winner and a class horse and we know he stays three miles and two furlongs.”

Native River is joined by stablemate Lostintranslation, who was a close-up third in last year’s Gold Cup but has failed to recapture that form so far this term.

Lostintranslation needs to bounce back
Lostintranslation needs to bounce back (Paul Harding/PA)

Tizzard added: “I wouldn’t dismiss Lostintranslation. He seems in absolutely great form – the best he’s been since I can remember.

“I’m sure you’re going to see him turning in as though he might win it, but as we’ve seen here before, horse have got to get up that hill.”

Runaway Peter Marsh Chase winner Royale Pagaille is a fascinating contender for Venetia Williams, who also saddles outsider Aso.

Connections deliberated long and hard as regards which race to go for with the Rich Ricci-owned Royale Pagaille, who is technically still a novice.

In the end they plumped for the Gold Cup, and jockey Charlie Deutsch is relishing the opportunity of a lifetime.

Royale Pagaille was brilliant at Haydock
Royale Pagaille was brilliant at Haydock (David Davies/PA)

He said: “I’ve loved riding him this season. I was gutted to miss out on him at Haydock last time, but I’m just really happy to keep the ride on him. Numerically it has been my best season to date and it would be a nice touch if I could win this on top.

“I didn’t get much of a say in which race he would run in, although I spoke to Venetia. However, I didn’t really find out what race he would run in until everyone else did. The horse is in good form and you have to have a go at a race like this when they are in good form – hopefully the hype will be right.

“I’m really lucky that I’ve had the support of Venetia and I’d like to think I’m doing my best to reward her as much as I can by riding her winners.”

He added: “You have to remember it was still a handicap he won last time. I think, like Venetia said, with the horses that finished in behind it was hard to know what sort of performance it was, but it was hard not to get excited by it as he won by a long way and quite easily.

“Like Venetia said, any of those good horses in the Gold Cup would have put in a similar performance at Haydock and Kempton.”

Altior to wear cheekpieces in Champion Chase

Altior will sport first-time cheekpieces as he bids to regain his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase title at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The 11-year-old secured the second of his back-to-back victories in the two-mile showpiece in 2019, but has endured mixed fortunes subsequently – losing his unbeaten record over obstacles when stepped up in distance in November of that year, before his Festival run last spring was scuppered by injury.

Altior returned to action over Christmas with a second place at Kempton, and trainer Nicky Henderson felt his jumping that day was not quite up to scratch – hence the application of headgear when he lines up at Prestbury Park on Wednesday.

Henderson told Unibet: “It did occur to us that his jumping, in particular at Kempton, wasn’t as deadly as it should be. If you see him here schooling, you won’t see anything faster or quicker.

“We are going to put some cheekpieces on him. It is something that we have discussed for a long time over the last few weeks since Kempton.

“The race is going to be fast and furious, (so) he has got to be just that little bit sharper.

“I think they will help particularly over the first three fences, which they will go quick (at), and he has got to be there with them. He also sometimes has a little bit of a flat spot, two or three furlongs out.

“We did some work with him the other day, and (jockey) Nico (de Boinville)felt it made a nice difference, so that is what we are going to do. If he can get some decent ground, and the cheekpieces do their bit, he is in good form.”

Henderson also plans to furnish Santini with headgear in Friday’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup, as he tries to improve on last year’s close second to Al Boum Photo.

The trainer wrote on Twitter: “Santini schooled with some headgear on yesterday, and I can confirm he will wear a visor in the Gold Cup.”

Henderson relieved Game Spirit plan paid off for Champ

Nicky Henderson is glad his “ridiculous” idea of running Champ over two miles as a prep for the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup did not leave him with egg on his face.

Having had an interrupted season and his intended reappearance in the Denman Chase postponed by the weather, Henderson came up with the plan of running last year’s dramatic RSA winner over the minimum trip in the Game Spirit, once Altior had been ruled out.

Always prominent under Nico de Boinville, Champ exceeded nearly all expectations in finishing second to Sceau Royal and connections are now dreaming of winning the big one.

“It was an extraordinary performance in the RSA last year, reminiscent of dear old Might Bite,” said Henderson.

“I was watching what was going on up front, but then he came back into sight and swept by them. That proved one thing – his stamina.

“When we brought him in earlier this season, he was loose-schooling at Henrietta Knight’s and we could hear a noise we’d never heard before. It makes me wonder whether it had anything to do with what happened last year. Round about the second-last is where it could catch you out. It’s just a Henderson theory.”

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After a wind operation, Henderson went about planning the second half of the season for Champ.

“The Cotswold Chase was his alternative, but we thought that was better for Santini, certainly in that (soft) ground, then Champ would have come in for the Denman at Newbury – on the original weekend,” he said.

“The move back a week, as commendable as it was, just interfered with plans and we decided against Altior running. Sometimes crazy ideas come into your head in the middle of the night and it occurred to me that three miles, first time out, three weeks and five days before his objective, put him in the ‘bounce factor’ bracket.

“He’s an extraordinary horse because a week before the race he was working with On The Blind Side, a three-mile hurdler who isn’t good enough for the Stayers’ Hurdle. He’s not a good work horse, but it took Champ all day to get to him.

“My assistant, Charlie Morlock, said he didn’t exactly look like a horse to run over two miles, but Champ at home and Champ on a racecourse – you wouldn’t know it was the same horse as he does nothing at home.

“I was hoping we’d see what we saw as my head was on the chopping block for this ridiculous idea if it didn’t work. It worked because he could do it, but I didn’t know where he’d finish. It went well and his jumping at that pace was exceptional. We all came away very happy and he has been fine since.”

Champ on his way to the gallops at Seven Barrows
Champ on his way to the gallops at Seven Barrows (David Davies/PA)

Henderson confirmed De Boinville will stay on Champ for the Gold Cup, with Aidan Coleman riding last year’s runner-up Santini.

“Santini has had a difficult season. He started at Aintree when it was essentially a Flat race when they took the fences out. He’s a huge horse, he ran a very good race that day and in fact Frodon was behind him,” he said.

“We had no intention of running him in the King George, but there was just too much of a gap between Aintree and the Cotswold. He’s not a horse that sits still, he loves racing.

Nicky Henderson with Santini, last year's Gold Cup second
Nicky Henderson with Santini, last year’s Gold Cup second (David Davies/PA)

“Not surprisingly he found the track sharper than ideal, but it was still a good exercise for him. Then the Cotswold Chase was off, Sandown took it on but the ground was desperate. I was satisfied with him in third.”

While Champ is a much shorter price for Cheltenham, Henderson feels Santini may be going in under the radar if the ground is on the good side.

He said: “Champ’s run was obviously more eyecatching as he was running over the wrong trip. I’m very happy with Santini as it’s been a difficult winter with him. It’s not as if he’s coming in off three wins, but this is what he’s been waiting for.”

Cotswold Chase Trends

Run at Cheltenham racecourse – normally in the third week of January at their Trials Meeting – the Cotswold Chase is run over a trip of 3m 1 ½ furlongs. The race is deemed as another Cheltenham Gold Cup trial, but maybe only in name as the last horse to land both races in the same season was Looks Like Trouble in 2000, while Master Oats took both prizes back in 1995.

Being Staged at Sandown Park in 2021 - Note, the 2021 running of the Cotswold Chase will now be run at Sandown Park on Saturday 6th Feb 2021, after the original race day at Cheltenham (30th Jan) was called off.

Twelve months ago in 2020 we saw the Nicky Henderson-trained Santini win the race under jockey Nico de Boinville – that was the first winning favourite in the last 17 runnings, while Santini went onto finish a close second in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Here at GEEGEEZ we take a look back at past winners of the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase and give you all the stats that mater ahead of the 2021 renewal – this year run on Saturday 6th February 2021.

 

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Cotswold Chase Past Winners

2020 – Santini (13/8 fav)
2019 - Frodon (9/4)
2018 - Definitly Red (7/1)
2017 – Many Clouds (8/1)
2016 – Smad Place (9/2)
2015 – Many Clouds (4/1)
2014 – The Giant Bolster (6/1)
2013 - Cape Tribulation (7/1)
2012 – Midnight Chase (11/2)
2011 – Neptune Collonges (11/2)
2010 – Taranis (16/1)
2009 – Joe Lively (11/1)
2008 – Knowhere (16/1)
2007 – Exotic Dancer (6/1)
2006 – See You Sometime (18/1)
2005 – Grey Abbey (10/3)
2004 – Jair Du Cochet (11/4)

Cotswold Chase Betting Trends

17/17 – Officially rated 151 or higher
16/17 – Ran at Cheltenham over fences before (8 had won)
15/17 – Won over at least 3m before (fences)
15/17 – Raced in the last 8 weeks
14/17 – Won between 2-6 times over fences
12/17 – Priced 7/1 or less
12/17 – Went onto race in that season’s Gold Cup (no winners, all placed 8th or better)
11/17 – Aged 9 or 10 years-old
11/17 – Ran at either Wetherby (3), Cheltenham (4) or Kempton (4) last time
11/17 – Placed favourites
9/17 – Winning distance – 6 lengths or more
8/17 – Won last time out
7/17 – Unplaced last time out
7/17 – Won by an Irish-bred horse
6/17 – Winners from outside the top 3 in the market
6/17 – Won by a French-bred horse
3/17 – Won by the Paul Nicholls yard (5 wins in total)
2/17 – Won by the Oliver Sherwood yard
1/17 – Went onto win the Grand National (Many Clouds, 2015)
1/17 – Went onto win the Ryanair Chase (Frodon, 2019)
1/17 – Favourites
10 of the last 13 winners were aged 9 or 10 years-old
The average winning SP in the last 17 runnings is 15/2
Looks Like Trouble (2000) was the last winner to go onto win the Cheltenham Gold Cup

 

 

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Aidan Coleman teams up with Santini in Cotswold contest

Aidan Coleman will partner Santini for the first time as he puts his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials on the line in Saturday’s rearranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown.

Saved from Cheltenham’s abandoned Trials Day last weekend, the blue riband warm-up has attracted three genuine top-notchers.

Nicky Henderson’s Santini was second in the Gold Cup last year to Al Boum Photo, while the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai is fresh from winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Colin Tizzard’s 11-year-old Native River has also scaled the heights, not least when winning the Gold Cup in 2018.

Coleman will get the leg up on Santini at the Esher venue, with regular rider Nico de Boinville lined up to take the mount on Champ, Henderson’s other Gold Cup contender, in the Denman Chase next week, after which a decision will be taken over who rides which horse at Cheltenham.

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“We’re keeping all options open really because we’ve got Champ to come out next weekend,” said Henderson.

“The idea is that Aidan will then know Santini, Nico will ride Champ next week and then everything is covered – that’s the gist of the plan.

“Hopefully all horses return safe and sound and are on course for March, and they can both run in the Gold Cup and then I’ve got two jockeys.

Aidan Coleman has picked up the ride on Santini
Aidan Coleman has picked up the ride on Santini (David Davies/PA)

“It’s for obvious reasons, Nico obviously knows Santini very well already, so it was an opportunity for Aidan to get to know him.”

Adding further intrigue to the rescheduled event is the Harry Whittington-trained Saint Calvados, second in the Ryanair last season and fourth in the King George on his only outing this campaign.

Paul Nicholls’ Yala Enki will enjoy the extremely testing conditions, while Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad makes the journey down from Scotland. Both are arriving on the back of wins last time out.

Yala Enki proved his durability when he won the Portman Cup at Taunton, just two weeks after finishing third in the Welsh National.

Lake View Lad had Native River and subsequent King George winner Frodon behind when winning at Aintree.

Shan Blue has been unbeaten over fences to date
Shan Blue has been unbeaten over fences to date (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

There is also Grade One action on the card in the form of the Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, with Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue the headliner.

An impressive winner of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Christmas, he faces six rivals headed by Alan King’s Messire Des Obeaux, who has seemingly returned from a long absence as good as ever.

Nicholls’ Hitman, second to Allmankind in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase over two miles and Henderson’s mare Dame De Compagnie will ensure it is a true test of his ability.

Paint The Dream, Sporting John and Up The Straight complete the field.

Santini and Bristol De Mai face Cotswold Chase rematch

Last year’s one-two Santini and Bristol De Mai are among eight horses declared for Saturday’s Paddy Power “45 Sleeps To Cheltenham” Cotswold Chase.

Nicky Henderson’s Santini saw off the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai by three and a half lengths in last year’s renewal of the Grade Two contest, before going on to finish a close second to Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He has failed to rediscover that level of form so far this season – most recently finishing fifth in the King George at Kempton – and Henderson has already voiced concerns about the prospect of ultra-testing conditions in the Cotswolds this weekend.

Henderson told Sky Sports Racing: “Our feeling, even at the beginning of the week, was if it was heavy ground we’d have to think again.

“It is a trial and it’s very important with him that he enjoys it.

“He loves work and loves jumping and loves racing, but I don’t want to take that away from him by giving him a very tough race in really heavy ground – I want to find a race that he’s actually going to enjoy.

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“I’m not saying I want an easy race for him as there’s no such thing. The only alternative would be to wait for the Denman Chase at Newbury and we have Champ going there, but you can’t not run a horse just because you have another one in the race.

“You’ve got to go where is right for the horses and we are short of options”

With stable jockey Nico de Boinville heading to Doncaster to partner star novice chaser Shishkin and Jerry McGrath sidelined by injury, Aidan Coleman has been booked to partner Santini for the first time.

Bristol De Mai is a couple of pounds better off for the rematch and loves nothing more than a slog in the mud, as he proved when winning his third Betfair Chase at Haydock in November.

Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup hero Native River returns to the Cotswolds for the first time since finishing fourth in the 2019 renewal of the blue riband, having missed the race last season through injury.

The 11-year-old proved he retains plenty of ability when a close-up third behind Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad and Santini in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree last month, although several fences were missed because of low sun.

Lake View Lad gets the opportunity to prove that triumph was no fluke under champion jockey Brian Hughes, while Harry Whittington saddles King George fourth Saint Calvados.

The Conditional (David Bridgwater), Yorkhill (Sandy Thomson) and Yala Enki (Paul Nicholls) are the other hopefuls.

Paisley Park is set to face five rivals when bidding for a third straight victory in the Paddy Power Cleeve Hurdle.

Emma Lavelle’s stable star suffered a well-documented heart problem when defending his crown in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, but has bounced back to finish second in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and win the Long Walk at Ascot this term.

His biggest threat could be Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet, who reverts to the smaller obstacles after displaying high-class form over fences.

David Pipe runs the prolific Main Fact, although he has plenty of ground to make up on Paisley Park on their Ascot meeting last month.

Pipe has a second string to his bow in Ramses De Teillee, with the teenage Unowhatimeanharry and Irish challenger Decor Irlandais completing the field.

Nassalam looks to have a good opportunity to regain the winning thread in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial.

Gary Moore’s dual Fontwell scorer was no match for Pipe’s Adagio in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow three weeks ago, but will be widely expected to account for his three rivals this weekend.

Aso heads a field of 11 runners for the Paddy Power Millionaire Trophy Handicap Chase, while Nicky Martin’s stable star Bear Ghylls puts his unbeaten record on the line against four opponents in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Santini not certain to line up in Cotswold chase

Last season’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini is only “50-50” to run in the Paddy Power-sponsored Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.

Nicky Henderson is not keen to run the nine-year-old, who was second to Al Boum Photo in March, on very testing ground so close to his main assignment.

He will hold discussions with owner Richard Kelvin-Hughes and a decision will be taken over whether he heads straight to the Festival or not.

“I need to talk to Richard Kelvin-Hughes to be fair,” Henderson told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.

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“I would be nervous about him in heavy ground because he doesn’t like it. These races are more about – it is called Trials Day – it is a trial. If he’s going to hate it it will do more harm than good.

“We’re just juggling balls and I’ve got to say it’s 50-50. If it was heavy ground, I’ve got to discuss with Richard, but I would say to him it’s not going to be ideal and he’s a horse you have to keep shovelling on the coal, so if he’s not having a happy time it’s not what he wants at this stage.

“You could bash on (to the spring). There are ways of doing it these days, there are various racecourses and all-weather tracks. The only problem with him is he loves work.

“We might have to think of something else, but the ground is heavy everywhere and it’s not going to be any better next week or the week after, I suspect. It is a nightmare at the moment.”

Henderson could have waited for Newbury’s Denman Chase, but he already has a runner pencilled in for that who has not been seen this season.

“Champ is definitely going for the Denman at Newbury, that is a definite plan,” said Henderson.

“He’s had a big away day where he jumped very well. He needed it, and it was our attempt to have a sort of race before the Denman so it won’t take so much out of him come the day. He’s in good form.

Shishkin is heading to Doncaster
Shishkin is heading to Doncaster (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We haven’t got as far as who will ride him.”

Adding another complication to the Santini situation is the fact red-hot Arkle favourite Shishkin is due to run at Doncaster on Saturday, leaving Nico de Boinville with a potential dilemma.

“Nico and I think the one thing we must do is run Shishkin at Doncaster. Whether Nico will be at Doncaster, I suppose we have to decide what Santini does,” added Henderson.

Paisley Park all set for Cheltenham return

Star staying hurdler Paisley Park is among nine entries for Saturday’s Paddy Power Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Emma Lavelle’s stalwart got back to winning ways last time out in a thrilling finish with Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Philip Hobbs has not entered his charge this time around, but the Ascot form was boosted at the weekend when Roksana, who was third, was an easy winner.

“On paper it might not look as tough as the Long Walk, that’s true, and he’s in great order,” said Lavelle.

“What will be nice will be to go back to Cheltenham and have a nice experience after what happened at the Festival last year.

“While I’m glad there’s not going to be a massive field, I want him to have a nice experience. I certainly wouldn’t say it looks easy, though – all races at this level are difficult.

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“We’ll be giving weight away, but he seems in great order and the timing of this race is absolutely perfect as we can let him down a bit after it.

“Obviously the ground looks like being testing, but we can’t do much about that. We’d love it if the forecast was a bit better and it wasn’t a real slog, but it is what it is. He loves racing, this horse.”

Main Fact has been a revelation this season
Main Fact has been a revelation this season (Tim Goode/PA)

Harry Fry’s veteran Unowhatimeanharry is among potential opponents, along with the David Pipe duo of Ramses De Teillee and Main Fact, who had his long winning run ended in the Long Walk.

Itchy Feet could return to hurdles for Olly Murphy, with Third Wind (Hughie Morrison) another possible.

Nicky Henderson’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini is among 10 contenders in the Paddy Power ’45 Sleeps To Cheltenham’ Cotswold Chase.

He has yet to win in two outings this season, at Aintree and when fifth in the King George VI Chase.

Santini (in grey) was just touched off in the Gold Cup
Santini (in grey) was just touched off in the Gold Cup (Jacob King/PA)

Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados, fourth in the King George, rates as a serious danger as does Bristol De Mai, fresh from this third win in the Betfair Chase.

One who could be out again quickly is Paul Nicholls’ Yala Enki, who only won at Taunton on Saturday.

“If it poured with rain on Thursday and Friday I would be kicking myself if I hadn’t put him in the race, though it is a tentative entry,” said Nicholls.

“He is hard to place off his mark of 161 and has not got any kind of penalty in this race.

“Some of the others that are going to run in the Gold Cup might not want a slog at this stage round Cheltenham, so it could cut up.”

Rehearsal Chase winner Yorkhill, David Bridgwater’s The Conditional and a previous Gold Cup winner in Native River (Colin Tizzard) are among the entries.

Nicky Martin’s Bear Ghylls is among 14 in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, with Lecale’s Article and Wilde About Oscar in the mix.

The Pipe-trained Adagio, already a Grade One winner this season, is one of 15 in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle along with Gary Moore’s Nassalam, who was second to him at Chepstow.

Heross Du Seuil, Honneur D’Ajonc and Sage Advice ensure plenty of strength in depth.

Hughes believes ‘forgotten horse’ Waiting Patiently can make his mark in King George

Champion jockey Brian Hughes is hoping to “sneak in under the radar” with Waiting Patiently in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.

Ruth Jefferson’s nine-year-old has not run since finishing third in the Tingle Creek last December and unseated in this race in 2018, but he is a Grade One winner in his own right and the lack of a recent outing is of no concern to Hughes.

He also has winning course form, and Hughes is taking encouragement from his Ascot Chase victory that he will see out the three-mile distance in the Boxing Day highlight at Kempton Park.

He told VBet: “It’s obviously a good race. There’s the likes of Cyrname and Clan Des Obeaux, who has won the last two King Georges, and lots of other very talented horses.

“But he’s in really good form at home. He hasn’t run since last December, but that’s never been a barrier for him before and he’s always done well after a long lay-off.

“I’ve had three away days with him and he’s schooled really well each time. Ruth is really happy with him and he’s as fit as you can physically get him at home.

“He’s always been the forgotten horse, probably because he’s not trained by a big southern yard but that suits us nicely as we can just sneak in there under the radar.

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“The big question is whether he’ll stay. I guess the fact is no one really knows, but he got two (miles) five (furlongs) at a track like Ascot so that has to give you confidence.

“Everything’s gone well and we’re hoping he can run a huge race.”

Santini should not be underestimated in the King George, says Nico de Boinville
Santini should not be underestimated in the King George, says Nico de Boinville (Tim Goode/PA)

Nico de Boinville warns it would be folly to “underestimate or write off” the chance of Santini.

While accepting Kempton would not be the ideal track for the eight-year-old, the Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up has a CV that merits plenty of respect.

And trainer Nicky Henderson’s decision to supplement him for £5,000 was the right thing to do, according to De Boinville.

“Obviously, it was a late call by the guv’nor as to whether we supplemented him, but it made complete sense,” the jockey told Unibet.

“We know this isn’t his ideal track, as we saw in the Kauto Star at this meeting a couple of seasons ago, but it is not as if he ran a shocker that day and he is the third-favourite in a King George and that tells you it is well worth a roll of the dice.

Nico de Boinville is looking forward to riding Santini in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase
Nico de Boinville is looking forward to riding Santini in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase (David Davies/PA)

“He also happens to be one of the best staying chasers in the country, as we saw in the Gold Cup in March, and I am sure the Aintree run last month will have done him the power of good.

“I obviously wasn’t riding him there, but he clearly ran a very solid race from which to build from. The top two in the market clearly have big claims – my slight preference would be for Cyrname – but if people write my horse off or underestimate him, then so be it.

“The form book says they shouldn’t, and any more rain will not harm his chances either, as that would clearly put the emphasis more on stamina.”

Sam Twiston-Davies won the race 12 months ago on Clan Des Obeaux from his Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Cyrname and is just as thrilled to be involved again.

“It’s nice to be at Kempton, first and foremost, on Boxing Day,” he told William Hill Racing.

“Christmas is obviously great and then when you’ve got that at the back end of it, it just makes it even more exciting.

“I’m lucky being born in a racing family – once you’d got that Christmas lunch out of the way there was only one thing you were thinking about and that was the runners the next day and was dad (Nigel Twiston-Davies) going to have a winner.

“To then be jumping in the car when we were kids to go to Boxing Day, with Imperial Commander and stuff in the past.

“Now to go and ride a horse with a good chance is literally the stuff you dream about when you’re young.”

Henderson happy to take King George chance with Santini

Santini will seek to justify an entry that initially “wasn’t the plan at all” when he takes his place in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up was not considered for the Boxing Day highlight originally, and Nicky Henderson still has his doubts about whether three miles at Kempton Park will see his stout stayer to best effect.

However, such is Santini’s appetite for the game, Henderson feels he is ultimately best served by having a tilt at King George glory before bidding for back-to-back victories in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January.

The Seven Barrows trainer said: “We were monitoring the entries, we knew what they all were and we knew there wouldn’t be a million runners. We’ve got to finish fifth to cover the supplementary fee (£5,000).

“We’ve got to be positive and he’s in very good form, so we’re up for it. Richard Kelvin-Hughes (owner) is a sportsman.”

Santini had to settle for second spot behind Lake View Lad in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree earlier this month, a Grade Two contest in which nine fences were omitted due to low sun.

Henderson said: “Aintree wasn’t really a satisfactory race – if I wanted to run him in a bending race, I’d have sent him to the gymkhana!

“He did run a very good race, though. Last year he began in a graduation race at Sandown and was desperately unimpressive, but he wakes up for racing – you can’t work him enough.

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“If we had to wait another month to run it would have been so boring for him. I hope he’ll be sharper than he was at Aintree, but my worry is the track, it’s not a big, galloping track for a big, galloping horse.

“It wasn’t the plan at all, but it’s something to do before the Cotswold Chase. The more you throw at him the better he is, and within two days he’ll be bucking and squealing again.”

The Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation was well fancied for last year’s King George off the back of winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock, but never really travelled with much zest and was eventually pulled up by Robbie Power.

Lostintranslation is a top-class performer on his day
Lostintranslation is a top-class performer on his day (Anthony Devlin/PA)

He bounced back to his best to finish third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – but again has something to prove on his return to Kempton after finishing tailed off in heavy ground at Haydock last month.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “We are quite happy with where he is and he is ready to run.

“The only thing that came out of Haydock was that it was really heavy ground and though he is a big horse, Robbie mentioned he has always been a horse better on better ground.

“There is a bit of rain due to go through Kempton, but the ground won’t be like it was at Haydock. The horse has schooled well since then and he is in good form and we are looking forward to running him.

“He has got some good horses to take on that have been in really good form, but he was only beaten a length and a half in the Gold Cup and he looked like he was travelling the best for a long way, so we know he is a very good horse.”

Waiting Patiently (right) returns from a lengthy absence
Waiting Patiently (right) returns from a lengthy absence (Julian Herbert/PA)

Waiting Patiently is an interesting contender for Ruth Jefferson as he makes his first competitive appearance since finishing a close-up third in the Tingle Creek at Sandown 12 months ago.

The Flemensfirth gelding has only tackled three miles once before, when unseating Brian Hughes in the 2018 King George.

Jefferson said: “We took him for an away-day because he hasn’t run for a little while and he seems to have come out of that well. We weren’t desperate to get a run in as he’s not a stuffy horse, and he doesn’t want a lot of racing, so we could have given him a prep run and that could have been it for the season!

“The horse is fine and the ground is fine. As far as the distance is concerned, who knows? We hope this will tell us a lot, although last time we tried three miles we learnt nothing.

“If we didn’t have a go we’d always be wondering, so we’ll try it and see how we go.”

Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados was last seen pushing Min all the way in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, having missed an intended prep run for the King George after suffering a setback.

“He is good fresh and we have done plenty of work with him at home. He was ready for the Betfair Chase, but he picked up that infection,” said Whittington.

“A King George first time out is not ideal, but with his rating (167), where else do we go?

“He is ticking all the boxes at home, so we will roll the dice.”

Black Op is no back number in the King George, according to his trainer Tom George
Black Op is no back number in the King George, according to his trainer Tom George (Simon Cooper/PA)

Black Op completes the nine-strong field – and his trainer Tom George suggests he is no forlorn hope.

“On face value you’d probably say he was up against it, but he’s run against some of these horses before and run well against them,” the Stroud handler told Sky Sports Racing.

“In the Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy), he didn’t quite see out the trip. He’s a Grade One winner over hurdles. He definitely warrants taking his chance and we came close to causing an upset with Double Shuffle a couple of years ago.

“He’s in good form, he’s a high-class horse. He wasn’t beaten far in the Grade One novice chase there last Christmas.

“He liked the track that day and is ready for a good run.”

Nicholls struggling to separate King George headliners Clan and Cyrname

Paul Nicholls is heading to Kempton on Boxing Day with four live chances in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase – but he still does not think it is his strongest ever team.

Given Nicholls has claimed the Christmas highlight a record 11 times, he knows exactly what it takes to win, however, in five-times hero Kauto Star he has already had the perfect horse for the race.

Clan Des Obeaux will line up looking for a third win, though, while last year’s runner-up Cyrname is arriving having had an easier preparation. Frodon and Real Steel also represent Nicholls and would likely be leading contenders at most other yards.

“I don’t know if I can say this is my strongest hand – that would have been any year I had Kauto Star running for me, because he was virtually unbeatable!” said Nicholls.

“I’ve got the first and second favourites who both have great form at the track and the other two – it’s a great team of horses to have, I’m very lucky.

“People always ask me what I think and I tell the truth, I don’t think there’s anything between Clan and Cyrname.

“Clan is the defending champ, he’s won two and you do get horses winning multiple King Georges. To win three would be brilliant, but Cyrname has a good record around Kempton and is in a completely different place compared to last year.

“The other two, on all known form, are running for place money. You never know in racing, but I think Frodon and Real Steel have got it all on to beat Clan and Cyrname.

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“I don’t think there’s much between Cyrname and Clan. Clan has the advantage as he has such a great track record and has won the last two, so it will be very interesting.”

A little extra spice was added to the race on Monday when Nicky Henderson supplemented Gold Cup runner-up Santini. With Gold Cup third and fourth Lostintranslation and Monalee in the field, there is plenty of strength in depth.

“A lot of them ran well in the Gold Cup, they are the best chasers in the land, but Kempton is a completely different track to Cheltenham. Clan is way better at Kempton, but it swings the other way for other horses,” said Nicholls.

“Possibly it is sharp enough for Santini, but he’s a high-class horse, as is Lostintranslation, but he disappointed in this last year and at Haydock. If they all turn up on their A game, it’s a very good race.

Al Boum Photo leads Lostintranslation, Santini, Monalee and Real Steel over the last in the Gold Cup. All bar the winner meet at Kempton
Al Boum Photo leads Lostintranslation, Santini, Monalee and Real Steel over the last in the Gold Cup. All bar the winner meet at Kempton (Jacob King/PA)

“Cheltenham doesn’t suit Clan, just like Silviniaco Conti. If he won a third King George, I’m sure he’d get a bigger fan club than he’s got now.”

Clan Des Obeaux was second to Bristol De Mai at Haydock first time out this season.

Nicholls said: “He was fit going there, he recovered quickly and he’s in good form. He schooled this morning with Sam (Twiston-Davies) and he’s ready to go.”

Cyrname, meanwhile, had a much easier time at Wetherby compared to last season when he had his battle with Altior.

“Harry (Cobden) schooled him as well this morning and Harry had a big smile on his face. His prep has been good and you’ll see a different horse preparation-wise to what we had last year,” said Nicholls.

Frodon may have to take a step forward but is a Ryanair winner at his best, while Real Steel showed up well in the Gold Cup to be sixth when with Willie Mullins.

“Bryony (Frost) schooled Frodon this morning, he’s been freshened up since he ran at Aintree and he’s in good form.

“Daryl Jacob is going to ride Real Steel, he schooled him this morning. He ran very well in the Gold Cup and the horses who were just in front of him there all feature.

“Ruby (Walsh) tells me he loves going right-handed, so he’s got a chance of running well.”

Nicky Henderson feels Kempton is unlikely to be Santini’s ideal track, but is keen to get another run into him.

Henderson said: “When you are in lockdown Tier 4, you haven’t got a lot to do on a Sunday afternoon (and) I had a bright idea about what to do with Santini.

“The Cotswold Chase is still five or six weeks away, so we supplemented him this morning for the King George party.

“We didn’t put him in originally because I’m the first to admit we don’t think Kempton will be his ideal track – but he’s very well in himself, and there’s nothing else to do.”

Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados could make his seasonal bow in the Grade One feature – with Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently another who would be having his first outing of the campaign, having been off the track since last December.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Monalee, who finished fourth in the Gold Cup, is the sole Irish entry – and Tom George’s Black Op completes the 10-strong list of contenders.

Santini supplemented for King George

Santini has been supplemented for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Nicky Henderson’s charge was beaten just a neck by Al Boum Photo in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and returned to action with second place in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree this month, finishing a length behind Lake View Lad after a prolonged run to the line with the last two fences omitted.

The eight-year-old is expected to head back to Cheltenham next month to defend his Cotswold Chase crown, but Henderson felt it was worth stumping up £5,000 to add him to the Kempton field because the Milan gelding is in fine form at home.

Henderson said: “When you are in lockdown Tier 4, you haven’t got a lot to do on a Sunday afternoon (and) I had a bright idea about what to do with Santini.

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“The Cotswold Chase is still five or six weeks away, so we supplemented him this morning for the King George party.

“We discussed it last night. We’ve been through everything this morning, and he’s so well in himself and passed all his medical checks.

“We didn’t put him in originally because I’m the first to admit we don’t think Kempton will be his ideal track – but he’s very well in himself, and there’s nothing else to do.

“He may as well gallop round Kempton rather than gallop around here for five weeks.”

Clan Des Obeaux will be bidding for a third King George win
Clan Des Obeaux will be bidding for a third King George win (Steven Paston/PA)

Clan Des Obeaux will be bidding for a hat-trick in the three-mile feature and he is one of four possibles for Paul Nicholls – along with Cyrname, Frodon and Real Steel.

The reigning champion finished second to Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase on his reappearance, while Cyrname arrives on the back of an impressive victory in the Charlie Hall Chase on his return at Wetherby back in October. However, he disappointed when only second to his stablemate in last year’s King George.

Frodon, winner of the 2019 Ryanair Chase, was last seen when well beaten in the Many Clouds Chase – while Real Steel was third on his initial outing for Nicholls at Ascot, having previously been trained by Willie Mullins.

Lostintranslation disappointed at Haydock last time
Lostintranslation disappointed at Haydock last time (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Lostintranslation was well fancied in last year’s renewal but was pulled up before going on to finish third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He also lined up in the Betfair Chase for trainer Colin Tizzard, but was beaten 47 lengths and is on something of a retrieval mission here.

Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados could make his seasonal bow in the Grade One feature – with Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently another who would be having his first outing of the campaign, having been off the track since last December.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Monalee, who finished fourth in the Gold Cup, is the sole Irish entry – and Tom George’s Black Op completes the 10-strong list of contenders.

Lake View Lad gets the better of big names in Many Clouds

Lake View Lad upset a trio of Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders to claim top honours in the William Hill Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.

A small but select field of five runners went to post for the Grade Two contest, with 2018 Gold Cup hero Native River, last season’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini and the popular Frodon appearing the three main protagonists.

Native River made much of the running in his bid for back-to-back victories under Richard Johnson, with some prodigious leaps even proving too much from the usually bold-jumping Frodon in his slipstream.

Santini was under pressure a long way from home, but stuck to his guns to ensure he remained in contention rounding the home turn, along with Native River, Frodon and 16-1 shot Lake View Lad, who had been off the track since running over hurdles at Kelso in January.

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Trainer Nick Alexander admitted his stable star was aided by the decision to omit the three fences in the straight on both circuits due to the prevailing low sun.

Bu even so, it was hard not to be impressed by the way Lake View Lad (16-1) knuckled down in the hands of champion jockey Brian Hughes to see off13-8 favourite Santini by a length.

Alexander, completing a double on the card following the earlier success of Clan Legend, said: “We won’t forget today, that’s for sure.

“I’m sad for Henry Brooke, who missed out riding him today because of a nasty injury, but I’m delighted for the horse.

“He’s a great jumper, but I also knew also knew all the other horses were very good jumpers, and I just thought missing the fences out might help – I’m not sure if he’d have won that if they’d jumped all the fences and I hope the handicapper takes that into account.

“He’s been a tremendous servant to the yard – we’re very lucky to have him.”

A return to Aintree for a tilt at the Grand National is likely to be the main objective for Lake View Lad, who carries the same colours as the late Many Clouds, who won the National in 2015 and this race in 2016 for owner Trevor Hemmings.

Alexander added: “I’ve always wanted to him to have one chance against the Gold Cup horses, because he’s usually carrying big weights in handicaps, and everything was perfect for him today – the ground and the track – so today was the day to do it.

“We were thinking about going for the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day, but we might have handicapped ourselves out of that now and we could look at something like the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham at the end of January.

“There’s also a Pattern race at Kelso in February, which would a prep for the National.”

Santini and Native River face-off at Aintree

This year’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini and Native River, winner of the 2018 Cheltenham showpiece, are set to clash first time out this season in Aintree’s William Hill Many Clouds Chase.

Saturday’s Grade Two on the Mildmay course, highlight of a hugely competitive card also featuring two big handicaps over the Grand National fences, brings together three of the highest-rated chasers in training.

Colin Tizzard’s Native River won the race 12 months ago in first-time blinkers, and returns after also bagging Newbury’s Denman Chase last winter but subsequently having to miss Cheltenham because of injury.

Nicky Henderson’s Santini runs for the first time since being beaten just a neck by dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo at Cheltenham.

Frodon, Paul Nicholls’ 2019 Ryanair Chase winner, is officially rated 1lb superior to the 10-year-old Native River and 3lb below his fellow eight-year-old Santini.

They will race off level weights – but Frodon has a possible fitness advantage, having impressed many with a handicap victory over this trip at Cheltenham in October.

Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad and Warren Greatrex’s Keeper Hill complete the field of five.

Walk In The Mill will have 14 rivals as he bids for his third successive Becher Handicap Chase victory.

Robert Walford’s 10-year-old is reopposed by the last two runners-up, Kimberlite Candy from 12 months ago and Vieux Lion Rouge in 2018.

The latter – trained by David Pipe, whose Ramses De Teillee is more prominent in the betting – has a remarkable Aintree record, having won this race in 2016, run over the fences eight times in all and completed on every occasion.

Other major contenders in this year’s renewal include Ben Pauling’s Le Breuil, seventh last year when his yard was not in the best of form, and Nicholls’ pair Yala Enki and Give Me A Copper.

The William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, which closes the card and is run over three furlongs shorter than the Becher at two miles and five, has 19 declarations.

Prominent among them are Alex Hales’ Wetherby Listed winner Huntsman Son, Modus and Sametegal from Nicholls’ powerhouse and – at the top of the weights – Richard Hobson’s possible Grand National candidate Lord Du Mesnil.

Henderson’s Might Bite, runner-up to Native River in the 2018 Gold Cup, makes his debut over the big fences at the age of 11.

McGrath reunited with Santini for Aintree mission

Jerry McGrath is excited about getting back on board Santini in the William Hill Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on Saturday.

The 29-year-old will come in for the ride on last season’s Gold Cup runner-up in the Grade Two with his regular rider, Nico de Boinville, set to partner stablemate Altior in the Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown on the same day.

It will be the first time McGrath has partnered Santini since steering him to victory in the Grade Two Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2018.

Santini will have the assistance of Jerry McGrath on his seasonal return at Aintree (Julian Herbert/PA Images)
Santini will have the assistance of Jerry McGrath on his seasonal return at Aintree (Julian Herbert/PA Images)

McGrath said: “I won a Grade Two on him at Cheltenham going back a few years ago when he was only just coming on the scene.

“He has been a very good horse since and I’m delighted to be getting the call up to ride him next weekend.

“The assistant trainer Billy Aprahamian sits on him most days as he takes a bit of knowing, but I will probably have a sit on him during the week or pop him over five or 10 fences to get a feel of him again.”

The Cheltenham Festival winning rider reports Santini to have taken a significant step forward from a recent racecourse gallop alongside stablemate Beware The Bear  at Newbury.

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He added: “He has come on a lot for that gallop. He has never been an exuberant horse.

“Even that day when I won on him at Cheltenham I was off the bridle on him a long way out.

“He probably looks like he makes hard work of it but he always has plenty in the locker.”

Santini has saved his best efforts for Cheltenham in the past, however McGrath feels a return to a flat track should not prove an inconvenience.

He added: “We need to start him off somewhere this season and we need to get a few more miles on the clock before he goes back to Cheltenham and try go one better in the Gold Cup.

“He is a hard enough horse to place, which is probably a good thing as he is so talented, but it will be a nice starting point for him.”

Might Bite will tackle the Grand National fences for the first time in the William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase (Tim Goode/PA Images)
Might Bite will tackle the Grand National fences for the first time in the William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase (Tim Goode/PA Images)

McGrath will also pick up the ride aboard multiple Grade One winner Might Bite, who will make his debut over the Grand National fences on the same card in the William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase.

He said: “I’m very happy to be getting the call up for him.

“Everyone knows about Might Bite and he is kind of a famous horse even with non-racing people as they have heard about his characteristics along the way.

“He has been a great servant to Seven Barrows and he keeps everyone thinking. ”

It may be the first time Might Bite has tackled the famous Aintree fences, but McGrath is confident that the 11-year-old will take to them.

He added: “I suppose one thing he has in his favour is he jumped round the cross country fences at Cheltenham last season, which I know are different fences but it was a different aspect for him to concentrate on.

“He schooled over the Aintree style fences at Lambourn last week and he took to them well.

“If he takes to the fences we should have a good spin and he will be there or thereabouts.

Might Bite appeared to show plenty of enthusiasm on his return at Ascot, and with that effort fresh in the mind McGrath is optimistic about his chances of securing a first victory since landing the 2018 Betway Bowl at the track.

He added: “Nico said they were delighted that day at Ascot. He had a bit of room and he jumped very well.

“It will be a big advantage having that run under his belt. He is an older horse and you can only get him so fit at home.

“He will appreciate going back to two-miles-five and when your jumping comes under scrutiny he will shine. “