@StopwatchRacing returns with his verdict on the festive action at Kempton and picks out some value in the King George VI Chase...
"If the Cap Fits won easily at Bangor, clocking an excellent time-figure (circa 140) but shaping like he could be significantly better than that still. He jumps, travels, but also gives generously and he looks well clear of the majority of the others."
I hope everybody had a Happy Christmas though, as well we all know, Boxing Day is the "real" Christmas Day for National Hunt enthusiasts. My Christmas tends to be pretty traditional. The only consternation in the Hoffmann household was on the face of my mother when I announced I would be having avocado with my Christmas breakfast of ham and eggs - one hipster decision too far.
Seven Barrows second-string can go well
The headline act, the King George VI Chase at 15:05, is one of the main-events of the entire racing season and looks a race to savour. The flip-side to that though, is that it's one of the most closely analysed and ricks in the market are generally smaller as a result.
If repeating the form that won him the RSA, Might Bite is the most likely winner, but is short enough now and his sectional-performance on his seasonal reappearance was 20 pounds below his best. Clearly he can be expected to improve for that and Kempton will suit him even better, but I thought he was pretty underwhelming at Sandown and his jumping was ponderous as well.
Bristol De Mai is a monster given his conditions and I don't worry about the better ground in the way that others do. My bigger concern with him is that he likes to get into a rhythm at a steadier pace early, making his move with impressive-sectionals mid-way through the race and, with a frenetic pace likely from the start, that's not going to happen.
Thistlecrack was awful on reappearance and couldn't be on my mind; Fox Norton will undoubtedly run well but will be vulnerable to a stronger stayer.
At the current prices, the one I like the most is the Henderson second-string, Whisper, who is currently trading at 9.617/2 to win and 2.35/4 in the place market. That looks a couple of points too big for me.
He's impressed consistently, clocking sectional performances in the early-170s on two occasions (most recently, and when second in the RSA). He stays this trip well and, whilst he's not quite got the ability of Might Bite or Bristol De Mai at their best, he is also a more straightforward type, more likely to give his running than either of those two, and is a significantly bigger price to boot.
My only concern is his jumping - he has a tendency to walk through a fence at times - but he got away with that in the hustle-and-bustle of the Ladbrokes Trophy with Newbury's stiffer fences, so Kempton shouldn't prove a problem.
The Cap will Fit at Kempton
If you want a short-priced banker, look no further than the Harry Fry trained If The Cap Fits in the opening novice hurdle, at 12:45. This looks a weaker contest than in previous years, where past winners have included illustrious names, most notably Altior.
If the Cap Fits won easily at Bangor, clocking an excellent time-figure (circa 140) but shaping like he could be significantly better than that still. He jumps, travels, but also gives generously and he looks well clear of the majority of the others. I can't have Henderson's inmate, Diese Des Bieffes, who has over 10 pounds to find on Fry's inmate, and the outsiders are likewise.
The one I'm most concerned about is Simply The Betts, who receives 8lb from the favourite, and shaped with plenty of promise on hurdling debut. He's all speed, and the tight, fast Kempton track will suit him even better than Newbury.
I don't think he's the most straightforward under pressure, however, and he finished a shade weakly late on that day. If the Cap Fits just feels more like the finished article at this stage, though I wouldn't put you off having a straight-forecast as I think they're likely to finish first and second.
Corton a solid proposition in Kauto Star
The Kauto Star Novices' Chase at 13:55 is arguably the most interesting contest of the day and, with the exception of Some Invitation, I have the remaining six runners all running to marks of 145 or better - some significantly better.
Black Corton is my idea of the most likely winner, and his current odds of 7.413/2 look generous. I have him running to a mark of around 160 on each of his two most recent starts and, with a slightly longer break between starts and a more suitable track to boot, he could run to slightly beyond that.
He's very pacey, travelling well through his contests, and is a slick, efficient jumper. I thought he ran well at Newbury, a track whose stiff fences wouldn't have suited his economical jumping, and the faster-run contest and easier fences at Kempton will help him.
The way he's been campaigned by Nicholls suggests he's not regarded as a superstar at Ditcheat, and my instinct is that they're correct, but he's the best kind of horse in that he takes his racing well, and consistently runs to the same level without ever setting the world alight. Running to a mark in the early-to-mid 160s may well be enough in this race, and I think he should be favourite.
Back If the Cap Fits at 2.285/4 in the 12.45 at Kempton
Back Black Corton at 7.413/2 in the 13.55 at Kempton
Back Whisper at 9.6 in the 15.05 at Kempton
Back Whisper at 2.3 To Be Placed in the 15.05 at Kempton