ITV Races - Tony Calvin

Tony Calvin Antepost Tips: Back Paul Nicholls' horse to Hit heights on Boxing Day

Betfair tipster Tony Calvin
TC likes the look of Hitman for Boxing Day's King George VI Chase

Tony Calvin takes an early look at the market for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and makes the case for an antepost bet on Hitman...

Unfortunately, it looks odds-against that the Betfair-sponsored Ascot card on Saturday will go ahead - the weather is only set to turn warmer on Sunday, it seems - so I don't see much point in analysing the weekend markets just now.

I am going to have a good look at Kempton's King George on Boxing Day instead.

To some extent, I have already nailed my colours to the mast when talking up Hitman on Betfair's Weighed In Monday show immediately after his Haydock win on November 19, but I am going to assess each of the entries in betting order.

Bravemansgame has major claims

First in the frame is Bravemansgame, as short as 5/4 with the Betfair Sportsbook but 2.9215/8 on the Betfair Exchange, which is obviously a far more realistic price. In the defence of the 5/4 quote though, the odds-compilers do have to guard against no-shows and running plans do appear to be fluid for a few of the main players.

And Bravemansgame will definitely turn up, health-permitting. And that is a rather big factor in ante-post punting, clearly.

I am not saying he is favourite by default, as he has major claims. A 150-rated Grade 1-winning novice hurdler, the only blemish on his chasing dance card was at Aintree in April and the positives are seemingly plentiful.

Well, three-fold mainly.

He won the Kauto Star over course and distance on the card last season and he did it very smoothly on his return in the Charlie Hall. And he does have untapped potential, as well.

But can you legitimately take him at his current odds, even at the inflated Betfair Exchange price?

It surprised me to clock that he has never faced more than four horses in any of his six chase starts but I suppose that may not be an issue on Boxing Day.

What concerns me more is his stamina against Grade 1 horses - I have never been sold on how much he has left in the tank when finishing off his races, even going to back to his 2m5f win at Haydock in November 2021 (though I was wrong there) - and his basic level of form.

Bravemansgame 1280.jpg

Now, even a reproduction of what he has shown may be sufficient - though that may only be the case if the higher-rated trio of L'Homme Presse, Protektorat and Noble Yeats don't run - but I can't get overly-excited by his novice efforts.

The Wetherby reappearance form, a 3 1/2 -length defeat of Eldorado Allen in a five-runner race, is not going to scare that many top-notchers either.

The runner-up was subsequently beaten 11 lengths by Protektorat in the Betfair Chase. That was a decent effort but nothing more, as his unchanged handicap mark of 162 underlines, But against that Eldorado Allen is going to rock up here and he probably isn't that outlandish an each-way player at the general 20s in the marketplace (in fact, the Sportsbook's stand-out 25/1 was taken on Monday morning and he is now 16/1 there).

The third and fifth from Wetherby were also beaten in Noble Yeats' Many Clouds race, but Ahoy Senor (who it seems is going to Wetherby on Boxing Day and not Kempton), didn't run that badly, all things considered, at Aintree, and Paint The Dream did hose up at his beloved Newbury afterwards, so the form is mixed, I suppose.

However, if Bravesmansgame wins, then I will lose.

L'Homme leaves me cold

The intention is to run L'Homme Presse, a 3/1 chance with the Sportsbook but nearer 4s on the Betfair Exchange, if the ground is considered soft enough. He would be the (joint) form horse as he is on a lofty perch (again all perches are lofty in racing, or else we don't mention them) after his Rehearsal win off a mark of 164.

He has a very similar profile to Bravemansgame, in that his only chasing defeat came in the Aintree race won by Ahoy Senor, and the facts are he is fully at home on good to soft, the ground on which he recorded his career best at Newcastle.

In fact, Timeform actually called it good that day, so I can't see the ground being an issue for Kempton. As we saw again at the Tinge Creek meeting, the clerks are clearly aiming for good to soft now (and not as the BHA's current directive of good).

So I am not sure where the owner was coming from, after the Newcastle win, when he said that it would have to rain a "hell of a lot for him to run in the King George."

You can easily argue he should be favourite - and he may be on the day once the ante-post equation is no longer a consideration - but he is another horse, like Bravemansgame, that I have never really warmed to for some reason.

That seems a daft thing to write, and it almost certainly is, but I imagine most punters come to these, probably illogical, conclusions and it is hard to shift them. Neither horse excites me.

Keep the faith with Hitman

Rightly or wrongly then, I am against the front two in the market, as it stands.

Now, enter Hitman.

I fully understand that he needs to find plenty of improvement - he is rated just 160, after all - if all of the big names run, but, unlike the above pair, this is one horse who really caught my imagination at Haydock last time. I am happy to buy into the belief and my instinct here.

Yes, I know he was beaten on his reappearance off a mark of 159 in the Old Roan (where he was said to need the run) and only won a Graduation Chase off levels at Haydock, but I loved the way he sauntered home, and I really can see him relishing the step up to 3m.

He had the pace to finish second in a Tingle Creek last season and this is a 6yo going places. He reminds me very much of the stable's Clan Des Obeaux, who won this race at the same age, although to be fair that one had admittedly raced over 3m1f previously, albeit inconclusively.

I don't think for one minute that Harry Cobden will choose him over Bravemansgame, but that doesn't bother me at all.

Hitman flying with Frost 2021 1280.jpg

I backed Hitman at 6s each-way for this race after Haydock, so anything bigger than that price on the Betfair Exchange - he is currently 7.413/2 - is a bet. In fact, 5/1+ would do me.

Back Hitman each-way in the King George @


Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls reports that he intends to send Pic d'Orhy to the Siviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on January 14 (though obviously plans can change) so he is set to be represented by Bravemansgame, Hitman and the 2020 winner of this race, Frodon.

This will be more Frodon's bag than the extended 3m1f in the soft of the Betfair Chase was - he was soundly beaten behind Protektorat - but, even so, I'd be disappointed if Hitman couldn't see off his 10yo stablemate, who currently trades at 18.5 on the Betfair Exchange.

Noble Yeats would be a major player at Kempton

By the way, the 170-rated Protektorat looks like swerving the race, as all his best form has come left-handed, and his co-owners Ged Mason and Sir Alex Ferguson also have Hitman for this anyway.

Dan Skelton has said his horse could go for the Fleur Des Lys Chase or the Cotswold Chase next, and Noble Yeats' owner Robert Waley-Cohen has hinted that the former contest at Lingfield could be his next target.

However, there was a nibble for him into 9.617/2 on the Betfair Exchange on Monday (he is now back out to 14.013/1, mind you) and trainer Emmet Mullins has said nothing will be ruled in or out for him, so watch this space.

The unconventional Mullins is no slave to set plans, and Waley-Cohen is likely to give him free rein after Aintree in April, even if he is as rich as Croesus, the king of Lydia no less. I am sure I overheard a chat once when someone said he owned a Swiss bank.

His Noble Yeats is not one you could back with any confidence at the moment, given the running doubts, but the manner in which he took off to win the Many Clouds at Aintree suggests the Grand National winner, now officially rated 167, would be a major player if re-directed here.

Envoi Allen takes hurdle 1280.jpg

Bravemansgame is actually only the fifth highest-rated horse in the field as it stands, as Envoi Allen is on 165 in Ireland after rolling back the clock when stepped up to 3m for only the second time in a Grade 1 at Down Royal last month.

But, as promising as this horse once was in his heyday, though he is still only eight - it is remarkable to consider he went off 4/9 for the Marsh last year - I really can't warm to him, even at 7s on the Betfair Exchange.

Simply put, that Down Royal defeat of Kemboy has more holes than a tramp's vest - I had a flashback to Channel 4's Morning Line there - or indeed a Swiss cheese (big Switzerland vibe in this section). We know what the runner-up is, the third Conflated drifted like he had missed 10 pieces of work beforehand (5/2 to 8/1+ at one point), and the favourite Galvin ran no kind of race.

No, I can't have him.

At the moment, we think Ahoy Senor is being aimed at the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby, not here, and the Peterborough Chase second (to Pic D'Orhy) Millers Bank, isn't good enough, so that leaves Royal Pagaille to fear.

He is a danger to all on form, being rated 163, but he had a small setback that forced him to miss his November targets (which included the Betfair Chase) and he would ideally need it pretty soft around here. However, he does go well when fresh and he has won his only start here (albeit off a mark of just 140).

His price of 50.049/1 on the Betfair Exchange would obviously be absurdly big if he came here, but he is also in the Welsh National on December 27, and apparently the Rowland Meyrick is being considered, so backing him all-in for Kempton at this stage carries the obvious risk and doesn't appeal. And Williams may want to keep her entries apart, too.

I am not even sure there is a supplementary stage for the race, to be honest, and if even if there is at the five-day stage (as seems likely) - it actually costs £4.600 to supplement on December 20 - I can't think of a horse that could be jettisoned in.

Though Galopin Des Champs being put back in the race would cause some amusing Twitter angst.

The last of the 13 currently in the race is Red Happy, a 125-rated chaser who will be having his 23rd of the race of the season if running (providing he doesn't run before, that is, as he is also entered at Ascot on Saturday).

I appreciate he is fully entitled to run if the BHA are happy for him to do so - and there is £3,350 for sixth place - but it wouldn't be the greatest look for the sport were he to line up.

You get the feeling that he could be a bad advertisement just waiting to happen. And the sport doesn't need any more of those. However, thanks to the readers who pointed out you have to be 130-rated to run in the race (similar thumbs up to those with the supplementary info).

Anyway, it is Hitman for me and I am keeping the faith.

Good luck.

*This article was amended on 13 December after readers provided Tony with supplementary information.

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Profit and Loss (from March 26)

Staked: 295 Returns: 469 P/L: +174.0 Previous (April 14 2021 to March 25 2022) P/L: + 183.1 All exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP for sake of fairness

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