Merry Christmas everyone, there is plenty to look forward to over the festive period. Kempton provides the highlight with the King George on Boxing Day. Can King Kauto make it an historic five wins in this race?
Well, he may have got the better of the Gold Cup winner Long Run in the Betfair Chase but he was trained to the minute for that race and Long Run was too fresh and keen and as a result made some jumping errors - I think we'll see a different horse at Kempton in a bid to repeat his win in last season's race. His stablemate Master Minded could prove to be a real threat to the favourite. However, this is his first try at 3 miles and if you back him you are taking a chance on him staying the trip.
He is incredibly classy but I have my reservations about his stamina against horses of this calibre and Long Run is the one for me despite his short price. This is how the market looks with Sky Bet who have Long Run as their 5/4 favourite, Kauto Star is 3/1 and his stablemate Master Minded 11/2, Captain Chris is 7/1. Sky Bet make Paul Nicholls a 7-4 chance to win the race and they have him at 10/1 to saddle the one-two. They have also priced up Long Run straight forecasts with the defending champion 4/1 to beat Kauto Star into second and 8/1 to have Master Minded in the runner-up spot. In the betting without Long Run, Kauto Star is 11/8 favourite with Master Minded and Captain Chris both 4/1 chances. Long Run is 9/2 to repeat last year's feat and win both the King George and Gold Cup this season with Kauto Star 20s to do likewise - so plenty of special bets to get involved with there.
Also at Kempton the Feltham Novices' Chase (a race Long Run won in the past) looks a closely matched contest with Grands Crus the market leader at 11/8 for David Pipe. He is settling much better this season ans seems to have matured, however, he had to work much harder to beat Sonofvic at Newbury on his second start over fences. Bobs Worth is the 9/4 second favourite for Nicky Henderson, he beat Cue Card on his chase debut at Newbury in a Grade 2 over 2 1/2 miles - he steps back up to 3 miles - a trip he won over in the Albert Bartlett at last season's Cheltenham festival. Henderson said he will come on a bundle for his chase debut. Silviniaco Conti is 7/2 for Paul Nicholls - he won on his second outing over fences at Wincanton over 2 1/2 miles and tries 3 miles for the first time in his career. Teaforthree is then next in the Sky Bet market at 10s. I think Bobs Worth is crying out for the step back up to 3 miles and I'm going to give him the nod over the current RSA Chase favourite Grand Crus.
Boxing Day hurdles
The Christmas Hurdle is one of three Grade 1s on Kempton's Boxing Day card and last year's winner Binocular, Rock On Ruby and Overturn can't be split at the top of the market and are all 2/1 with Sky Bet. Overturn got the better of 2010 Champion Hurdler Binocular in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and has since run well to be 2nd in the International Hurdle behind Grandouet. However, Donald McCain's superb hurdler wouldn't want the ground to come up too soft so conditions could go against him and this race is very much an afterthought by connections who initially were going to miss this race. Nicky Henderson feels Binocular will strip much fitter for the Newcastle run and that is a positive for the horse who goes well here. Rock On Ruby is a progressive young hurdler for Paul Nicholls and comes here having won the Gerry Fielden last time out - he was only beaten a short head in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival back in March. The concern though is that Nicholls wonders if this horse has the pace for the top 2 mile hurdle races and his main aim is the Aintree Hurdle over 2 1/2 miles in the spring. Having said that I think Binocular is vulnerable and Overturn has been quite busy of late, so I'm going to take a chance on the Paul Nicholls runner.
Bog Warrior is a horse to watch out for at Leopardstown on Monday. Tony Martin's horse runs in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase and is bidding to stretch his unbeaten run over fences to 3 after his recent victory in the Drinmore Novice Chase.
The day after Boxing Day it's the Welsh National and it's sure to be a real slog over this trip of 3 3/4 miles on heavy ground. Giles Cross is 13/2 favourite for Victor Dartnall - he was 2nd to Synchronised last season and this slog will be right up his street. Last year's winner could miss the race to go for the Lexus Chase 24 hours later instead but is currently 7/1 second favourite for Jonjo O'Neill. It was superb to see Carruthers win the Hennessy and he is 9/1 to add this to his seasonal haul, he has apparently schooled well in the run up to this race. Viking Blond is 8/1 to win this on only his fourth start over fences. Nigel Twiston-Davies' novice was 3rd to Grand Crus at Newbury last time out and this is his first try at the trip - he's well fancied. Jonjo O'Neill's Galaxy Rock is 10/1 along with Le Beau Bai who represents Richard Lee. As De Fer is 11/1 for Anthony Honeyball and will be ridden by Sam Thomas who has won on him 3 times in his last 4 starts. Any Currency and Cappa Bleu are 14s with the latter having just his 7th start under rules. The former Foxhunter winner won on his first start for 20 months in November and there is the bounce factor to worry about here. The weights are headed by 14/1 shot Hey Big Spender.
Colin Tizzard's eight year-old won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on his latest start and he will carry 11st 12lb which in this ground over this trip may stretch his stamina although his trainer has always felt he is a Welsh National horse. Blazing Bailey isn't the force of old but conditions suit Alan King's 9 year old - he is 25/1. It's a really tough race and will be a war of attrition but I'm going to go with Viking Blond.
There is plenty to look forward to at Leopardstown on Tuesday with Big Zeb the hot favourite for the Dial A Bet Chase. He is likely to be odds on for this and is miles clear on the ratings. He maybe 10 years old, rising 11, but I can't see him being beaten here against the likes of Golden Silver and Noble Prince who he beat last time out in the Fortria Chase. Also on the card there is an incredibly competitive and valuable race - the Paddy Power Handicap Chase over 3 miles. This race looks wide open with On His Own Sky Bet's 7/1 favourite for Willie Mullins. Groody Hill is second fav at 9/1. Beautiful Sound is 10/1 3rd best along with Smoking Aces. It's almost a pin job, but I hope that Beautiful Sound can win on his seasonal reappearance for Gordon Elliott - he has gone well fresh in the past.
Also on Tuesday, the Future Champion Novice Hurdle has a short priced favourite in Willie Mullins' Sous Les Cieux who won the Grade 1 Royal Bond on his second start over hurdles last time out and on all known form should win again. He meets Cash and Go who steps up from Novice company for Edward O'Grady.
At Kempton on Tuesday the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase promises to be a cracking race with the best 2 mile Novice chasers entered. This is the first real test for these novices who have been getting experience in lesser races. Peddlers Cross has won both his starts over fences at Bangor and has jumped professionally. Sprinter Sacre made a good impression with some slick jumping at Doncaster on his chase debut for Nicky Henderson. Menorah hasn't been quite so proficient as he unseated his rider on his chase debut at Exeter and ran in the International Hurdle last time out. For Non Stop gave Al Ferof a fright in a decent Novice chase at Sandown last time out for trainer Nick Williams. Whatever happens in this race it will have a huge bearing on the Arkle market. I think it's really tough to call and although Pedder's Cross has to give weight to his rival I hope he can just edge it. Finian's Rainbow who is a leading fancy for the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham festival could make his seasonal reappearance in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton (also on Tuesday). However, he is expected to improve for the outing.
Moving onto Wednesday and it's the Lexus Chase. It may not have Denman in the line up but it's looks a superb race. Quito De La Roque is Sky Bet's 6/4 favourite after his win at Down Royal last time out. Rubi Light is 7/2 after his win in the John Durkan. Joncol was 2nd in that race and is 4/1 for this contest. Bostons Angel has been keeping a bit back for himself and it's expected he will wear some form of headgear in this race after his 3rd at Sandown last time out - Jessie Harrington's RSA Chase winner is 10/1. Synchronised seems likely to run in this rather than the Welsh National and he's 14/1. I'm going to take on the favourite with Rubi Light but I think Boston's Angel is the danger as he has apparently taken to blinkers in his schooling sessions.
Finally the Istabraq Hurdle takes centre stage on Thursday. There has been plenty of controversy over the participation of Hurricane Fly and there hasn't been much confidence behind the reigning Champion Hurdler who is yet to run this season. Willie Mullins hasn't eased the rumours as Thousand Stars has been well backed. That can only lead us to believe that Thousand Stars is the one and this tough performer comes here having won the Morgiana last time out. A horse who can also run well is Dermot Weld's mare Unaccompanied who is still only 4 but is an interesting contender.
I hope you have a fantastic Christmas period and you can keep up to date with the latest prices at www.skybet.com and follow my daily selections on twitter Twitter: @skysportsAlexH
Kempton Boxing Day
Long Run in the King George @ 5/4 with Sky Bet
Bobs Worth in the Feltham Novices' Chase @ 9/4 with Sky Bet
Rock On Ruby in the Christmas Hurdle @ 2/1 with Sky Bet
Viking Blond in the Welsh National @ 8/1 with Sky Bet
Big Zeb in the Dial A Bet Chase @ 4/6 with Sky Bet
Beautiful Sound in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase @ 10/1 with Sky Bet
Sous Les Cieux in the Future Champion Novice Hurdle
Peddler's Cross in the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase
Leopardstown 28 December
Rubi Light in the Lexus Chase @ 7/2 with Sky Bet
Leopardstown 29 December
Thousand Stars in the Istabraq Hurdle