Christmas is here! Much of the month of December feels like a slow build in racing terms, but we're here now and have a few wonderful days of action to look forward to on either side of the Irish Sea.
Front runner can land the spoils
The Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle (14:30) at Kempton on Sunday may not be the highest-class renewal of the race that we've seen, but it is a fascinating contest with an intriguing tactical edge to it. Epatante will no doubt be heavily favoured to get the better of Not So Sleepy following their dead heat in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, but I'm not so sure.
Not So Sleepy is a tough horse to get past on his day and he might well benefit from a tactical edge here. At Newcastle, he didn't get the lead to himself and the finishing speed of the race suggests that those that pushed the pace were doing plenty. In contrast, he looks to be the lone front runner in this contest and may well get an easy lead to himself. If so, he could prove difficult to peg back and I very much favour him at the prices.
Gold Cup winner can get back to winning ways
The Ladbrokes King George VI Chase (15:05) later on that card is arguably the highlight of the entire Christmas racing programme. It has attracted a very competitive field that makes for an intriguing puzzle to try and solve.
Cases can be made for many of the contenders, but I'm going to side with the Henry De Bromhead-trained Minella Indo. The core fact behind this selection is that I feel he is the best staying chaser in training. That is based on his performance in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival where he got the better of A Plus Tard with, in my view, quite a bit to spare.
Now, he undoubtedly underperformed on his return to action at Down Royal, but I'm prepared to forgive that. Henry will have tightened the screws on him since then and I feel this course and distance will be fine for him.
One expects that Rachael Blackmore will sit that bit closer to Frodon this time and it promises to be a mighty rematch just between those two, never mind the rest of the top-class field.
The one little niggly worry I have about him is the application of first-time cheekpieces. While one could see the case for using them based on his reappearance at Down Royal where he didn't travel with his usual fluency, it shouldn't be forgotten that this is a horse that tended to over-race not that long ago. Hopefully the cheekpieces will spark him up just the right amount, but there is a slight fear that they might work too well and bring him back to the free-going days of his youth. Time will tell!
An extra gift for my readers...
As it's Christmas, I'd like to drop in a little bonus as well. At Leopardstown on Monday, the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle (13:45) is a strong race, but I am sweet on the chances of the Gordon Elliott-trained Mighty Potter. He ran very well in a messy renewal of the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse last time and I feel he will be capable of significantly better if getting a stronger gallop to run at here, which I think he will.
Happy Christmas as always, many thanks for reading.