It all starts with Elenika at Kempton and ends with The Mobb at Wincanton with Kauto Stone's run in the King George VI Chase being the highlight. But how does Paul rate his runners' chances on Boxing Day? Read on to find out...
Faces a re-match with Rajdhani Express, who we beat a length at Huntingdon when getting 8lb. Clearly, there should be little between us again at these weights but I think Nicky's horse is the one to beat in here. It is probably fair to say Elenika hasn't progressed a great deal on that victory in placed efforts in handicap company over 2m1f on his next two starts at Newbury and Taunton. However, the step up in trip is expected to suit him - in fact he is crying out for it - and the ground shouldn't be an issue either, so we have chances.
It is hellish hard to find races for these types of horses at the moment, and taking on Dynaste isn't ideal, but we take our chance. We were officially 9lb below Dynaste on hurdle ratings and probably have that much to find, and more, on their respective chasing form to date. But Poungach is a horse we have always liked, is improving with experience, and the form of his Haydock defeat of Super Duty was franked when the runner-up won well at Cheltenham last time. Dynaste will obviously take plenty of beating but 3m on a flat track should suit our horse and it was plenty soft enough when he won at Haydock.
American Trilogy & Rangitoto
American Trilogy has been a bit disappointing in his two runs this season, but the story with him is quite simple - he is handicapped up to his best. But the step back in trip to 2m6f may help him here. Rangitoto has been a very hard horse to train and we are beginning to get into 'last chance saloon' territory with him. He looked like taking a hand in the finish 3 out at Chepstow last time, but dropped away. The positives for him are that he won on this card last season, goes in the ground and is a horse that definitely has the ability to win off this mark. But I can't be confident.
I think he is a massive price at 10-1. I think it is a very interesting and competitive race and there are clearly some potentially top-class hurdlers in here, with plenty of scope for improvement. But so has ours. And I look at the form of the Supreme and I just think you can question just how good a race it was - Prospect Wells was only a length behind Darlan in fifth - and then I look at the Triumph, too. Now, Countrywide Flame was impressive there and has progressed really well since, looking very impressive in taking the Fighting Fifth. But Dodging Bullets was only beaten four lengths in the Triumph, after possibly looking the likeliest winner going to the last, and we had his breathing sorted out in the summer. And he has done well to win two muddling races this season, and neither of those will have played to his strengths.
He obviously has to improve here but I think we haven't seen the best of him yet and I think you will see that in a fast-run race that he looks set to get today. I am not saying that he will win but I will say that he looks far too big a price to me. We are likely to go back to novice hurdling after this but this is a race worth taking in.
Is an improving young horse who won well at Newbury last time. And the form of that handicap win has been boosted by the runner-up Merry King just being touched off at Haydock on Saturday and the third winning at Newbury next time. That gives him excellent chances against the likes of Pateese and Opening Batsman today but my one reservation with him is the ground; it is alright having the best horse in the race but it means nothing if they can't go in the ground. If he does handle it, then he must go well.
The more I look at this race, the more I think that Long Run is a very worthy favourite. Simply put, he is a true stayer and he brings the best form into the race. He is the stand-out horse. But, take him out of the equation, and there are question marks about plenty of these, and for that reason I think Kauto Stone has definite place chances.
Don't get me wrong, I know he has plenty to find on form, and he has to really step up to win this. But I think he has the right profile for the race, conditions may suit him more than most, he is working really nicely and looks far better than last season. You can draw a line through his form towards the end of last season when he was struggling with his breathing. We got that sorted out in the summer and he reappeared to beat First Lieutenant by a length in a Grade 1 at Down Royal. I know the bare form of that race leaves him with a fair bit to find with a few of these, but the runner-up ran a good third in the Hennessy and hopefully there is more to come from our horse.
What really gives me hope of finishing placed is that there are various doubts about most of the field. Cue Card was very impressive at Exeter, but does he want 3m in heavy ground? Is this really Riverside Theatre's optimum trip? The Giant Bolster has to be respected but I don't know whether this is his ground, and I know what a massive ask it is to expect Grands Crus to win a race like this so soon after a breathing op. And you can go through the field picking out negatives. You can say the same about Kauto Stone from a form perspective, but he has won a Grade 1 over this trip on soft ground and not many in here can claim that. If he is placed, I will be delighted. And if Long Run disappoints, then this race is up for grabs.
Wasn't finishing in his races last season, when we found him to be choking. So he was given a breathing operation in the summer and we fancied him on his reappearance over 2m5f at Cheltenham. And he was travelling well and looking like a big player when brought down 3 out. It is difficult to say with confidence whether he would have won there but at that stage you have to say that he was the most likely winner. Whenever horses have a bad experience like that, it is always a worry how they will react when you next get them back on the track. But he has looked fine at home, and he races off the same mark here, so we clearly have every right to be hopeful of a big run, even in a race as competitive as this. We were going to run him over 3m at Cheltenham earlier this month, but I took him out that day and I think today's trip on a flat track is more appropriate. Clearly it was his wind, and not the trip, that was the issue when he was folding tamely last season. But I want to see him finishing his races before I get too confident about him.
Travelled really well for a long way on his debut at Sandown before weakening from 2f out. He will be a lot fitter today and much wiser for the experience. But he has to improve a fair bit to trouble one or two in here. But hopefully he can.