Paul Nicholls: The exclusive verdict on my Boxing Day runners at Kempton and Wincanton
Paul sends runners to the King George meeting at Kempton and his local track, Wincanton, on Boxing Day. Read his exclusive thoughts on all those horses here...
"When Black Corton won his first chase at Fontwell early in June I thought he was an ideal horse for summer jumping before our better novices came out. His improvement since then had amazed me to the point that after six wins from nine attempts over fences he is now up to a mark of 155."
The lowdown on my Kempton hopefuls...
13:20 - Touch Kick
He was too headstrong for his own good last season before finally winning a novice hurdle at Taunton in March.
He is settling better now and after a promising first run over fences at Sandown where he was a bit too fresh he improved to win a novice handicap narrowly at the same course earlier this month.
Touch Kick needs to progress again as he has been raised five pounds in what looks to be a better race but he is going the right way over fences.
13:55 - Black Corton
Has been a prolific horse since joining us, winning ten of his 16 starts, continuing to give his best very time despite a busy schedule.
When Black Corton won his first chase at Fontwell early in June I thought he was an ideal horse for summer jumping before our better novices came out.
His improvement since then had amazed me to the point that after six wins from nine attempts over fences he is now up to a mark of 155.
Although he has more than earned his place in the line up in this Grade 1 race I am a bit concerned that this might be one race too many. Hopefully I am wrong and he will surprise me again.
Whatever happens he will have a well-deserved break after this.
14:30 - Old Guard
Has returned to form in style this season after a wind op to help his breathing and following two fine wins this autumn is back up to a mark of 156 which rather leaves him in No Man's Land, that difficult twilight area between handicaps and Grade 1 races.
He continues in good form at home and while I don't expect him to beat the Champion Hurdler Buveur D'Air, he did win snugly over this course and distance in October and was only two-and-a-half lengths behind The New One at Cheltenham recently so should be in the money again.
15:40 - Connetable
Bounced back to form with a brilliant run from the front in blinkers at Sandown early this month when he led until the last flight, racing with great zest, and was only just run out of it on the flat after a terrific duel with Holly Bush Henry.
That was Connetable's best run for a while but the handicapper promptly raised him five pounds so he doesn't have an easy task here. I am keeping the blinkers on over this trip of two miles, five furlongs which looks ideal as he stays so well.
The softer the ground, the more it will suit him.
And the verdict on my six runners at Wincanton...
12:55 - If You Say Run
Lost her unbeaten record last time at Ludlow where she tended to idle once she hit the front two out and was caught close home.
I don't think that was her true running and although she won her only point-to-point over three miles she is a smart mare with plenty of pace so I am bringing her back to two miles now in this qualifier for the Mares' Championship series.
The one doubt for If You Say Run is the testing ground which she has never encountered before.
13:30 - Persian Delight
Hasn't been the easiest to train over the past couple of years but he has plenty of ability when he is right and won a Wincanton handicap in good style in February over this trip before an injury put an end to his season.
I was happy with his comeback run in November at Exeter where he finished an encouraging third over a distance short of his best. He has improved for that outing and was subsequently dropped two pounds by the handicapper.
I won this Pertemps qualifier 12 months ago with Mr Mix and this race has been the target for Persian Delight since Exeter.
He enjoys soft ground and I'd say he is one of my best chances of the day.
14:05 - Captain Buck's
Won twice over hurdles at Kempton and Exeter, was always going to make a chaser and I was happy with his recent debut over fences at Taunton when he finished a close third Beau Du Brizais after being up with the pace the whole way.
Captain Buck's jumps and stays well and is now three pounds better off with the winner and looks to have a solid each-way chance in a competitive handicap.
14:40 - Monsieur Co
He is such a big, gross horse that unusually for one of mine he has needed both his first two starts this season to bring him to full fitness.
He jumped very well first time at Taunton until tiring, as I expected, half a mile from home then ran better next time at Doncaster until falling at the second last fence when he was booked for second place.
Fitness is not an issue now for Monsieur Co who has the size and scope to do well over fences. He has won on the soft in France, stays further than two miles and has a good chance against three opponents.
15:15 - Jessber's Dream
Although Jessber's Dream ran some good races for us last season in decent company I felt she never quite showed her best form.
We re-cauterised her palate over the summer and the plan was always to go chasing after a warm-up over hurdles at Wincanton in November when she ran really well to finish third in a valuable handicap, considering she was giving the first two in excess of a stone.
Jessber's Dream has had plenty of schooling over fences, and is ready for this switch to the larger obstacles in a race in which Theatre Territory looks to have a major chance.
15:50 - Ringa Ding Ding
Is a nice prospect out of a good mare called Blue Dante that I trained to win both her starts in bumpers.
He showed plenty of promise in finishing a fair fourth in a bumper at Taunton, beaten less than four lengths in a slowly run race, has improved for the experience and I am trying him in a tongue tie now.