It’s less than three-weeks to Christmas, and there’s lots more to look forward to over the festive period than wearing your dodgy Christmas jumper. Instead, you can hopefully look forward to backing some really good jumpers in what is a packed program of top-class national hunt racing.
Tingle Creek Christmas Festival (7th & 8th December)
The Tingle Creek is the highlight of Sandown’s two-day Tingle Creek Festival and this prestigious two-mile chase has been won by some of the all-time equine greats including Desert Orchid, Kauto Star, and Sprinter Sacre. This year it could be the turn of reigning champion chaser Altior to add his name to that role of honour. However, he could face some exciting opposition including Saint Calvados and Sceau Royal, whilst Willie Mullins could send over Un De Sceaux.
An exciting bunch of novice chasers are also set to battle it out in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase, and Lalor is fancied to come out on top after looking an absolute natural over the larger obstacles on his chase debut at Cheltenham in November.
Becher Chase Raceday (8th December)
If you love races run over the Grand National fences, you won’t want to miss Aintree’s Becher Chase Raceday. The main highlight is the Becher Chase which is run over a trip of nearly 3 miles and 2 furlongs, over a mile shorter than the Grand National. The race was won last year by Blaklion who was the first winner in the last eight years to carry more than 11 stone to victory. Blaklion is again amongst the favourites this year, but watch out for the horses set to carry less than 11 stone, especially if the ground is soft or heavy.
Another race over the Grand National fences is the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, whilst Definitely Red is a strong fancy for the Many Clouds Chase.
John Durkan Chase Day (9th December)
Imperial Call, Kicking King, and Don Cossack are all horses that have won both the John Durkan Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and all sorts of Cheltenham Gold Cup hopefuls could take in the 2019 John Durkan Chase. They include last season’s RSA Chase winner Presenting Percy, last season’s Ryanair Chase winner Balko Des Flos, and last season’s JLT Chase winner Shattered Love. Trainer Willie Mullins also looks sure to be well-represented in his bid to win his fourth John Durkan Chase in six years, and his entries include Min, Bellshill, and Al Boum Photo. However, the 2½ mile trip could be ideal for Balko Des Flos.
The International Meeting (December 14th & 15th)
Cheltenham International Meeting always attracts plenty of star performers and the Friday card is a chance for the stars of the cross-country races to strut their stuff in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase. On Saturday, it’s the turn of some of the top two-mile hurdlers to go head-to-head in the Unibet International Hurdle. My Tent Or Yours has been a regular in the race in recent seasons and he got his head in front last year and looks sure to try and record back-to-back wins.
Saturday’s card also includes the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in which Baron Alco may try and add to his Betvictor Gold Cup success at Cheltenham in November. He could face plenty of the same rivals he faced there including Frodon and Rather Be. However, it’s interesting that Willoughby Court is entered here, and he could be great value at around 12/1 off a mark of 151 if he’s recovered from whatever stopped him making his seasonal debut at Newbury recently.
Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Ante-Post Tip: Willoughby Court @ 13.00 Ladbrokes and Coral
Ascot (21st and 22nd December)
Ascot stages a two-day meeting on the weekend before Christmas, with the Friday card called the Christmas Friday Raceday and Saturday’s card called the Christmas Saturday Raceday. The names might not be the greatest but the racing is set to be top-notch. Friday’s card stages the Noel Novices’ Chase and the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle. Meanwhile, Saturday’s big race is the Long Walk Hurdle, which will be called the Grade 1 JLT Hurdle this season. The last two winners Unowhatimeanharry and Sam Spinner may again lock horns, whilst it will be interesting to see whether Willie Mullins brings over Faugheen.
32 Red Winter Festival (December 26th and 27th)
With no racing set to take place in England between from December 23-25, Kempton’s Boxing Day Meeting is the best Christmas present any horse racing fans could wish for.
The highlight is the King George Chase and this year’s renewal really does promise to be a Christmas cracker. Last year’s winner Might Bite has to out a shocking run in the Betfair Chase behind him, but his trainer Nicky Henderson says his nine-year-old was simply scared by the bigger than average fences at Haydock. However, Might Bite’s failure there should guarantee plenty of quality horses line up to try and wrestle his crown away from him.
The challengers are set to include last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River, whilst trainer Colin Tizzard is also set to saddle the 2016 King George winner Thistlecrack. Dual Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai may also turn up, whilst recent Ascot scorer Politologue may step up to three-miles for the first time. Willie Mullins may also send Belshill across the Irish Channel, as he seems to like going right-handed. However, the horse that could live up to his name is Waiting Patiently, who connections have targeted at the King George since last season.
King George Chase Ante-Post Tip: Waiting Patiently @ 7.00 SkyBet, Betfair, PaddyPower, Unibet, Betfred
Other races to watch at Kempton include the Christmas Hurdle in which Buveur D’Air would again seem to have the race at his mercy. Meanwhile, some of the best novice chasers are set to battle it out in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.
Welsh National (December 27th)
Chepstow is the home of the Welsh National and recent winners have tended to fall into two brackets. Synchronised and Native River are the only two horses to have carried over 11 stone to victory in the last 10 years and both of those horses proved good enough to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup. So, if you’re thinking of backing recent Ladbrokes Trophy winner and possible top-weight Sizing Tennessee, the question is does he have the quality to win a Gold Cup? Meanwhile, eight of the last 10 winners have carried 11 stone or less and it often pays to side with a lightly-weighted horse, especially if the ground rides heavy, as it so often does.
Bishops Road looks like he could get to carry a nice low-weight off his current mark, which is currently around 7lb lower than the last mark he won off. His stable also has a great record in the race having saddled the winners in 2011, 2013, and 2015.
Welsh National Ante-Post Tip: Bishops Road @ 34.00 SkyBet, William Hill, Betvictor, Coral, Boylesports, Betway, 888Sport
Leopardstown Christmas Festival (December 26th to 29th)
The Leopardstown Christmas Festival is usually a chance to see many of the stars of Irish National Hunt Racing and is as much a part of a Christmas in Ireland as turkey.
The Racing Post Novice Chase is the highlight of Boxing Day and Mengli Khan has been installed as the ante-post favourite after last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third put in an excellent round of jumping on his chasing debut. Don’t be surprised if Willie Mullins finds one to take him on with between now and then though as he’s trained the last three winners.
Mullins will certainly fancy his chances of winning the Paddy Rewards Club Sugar Paddy Chase as he has the likes of Footpad, Min, and Great Field entered. This could also be the target for the improving Ballyoisin, whilst Simply Ned has a great each-way record in these big two-mile races at Leopardstown.
December 28th is definitely the best of the day’s racing at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival and the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle could see a possible rematch between last season’s first and second Apple’s Jade and Supersundae. What a race this could be though as Willie Mullins could pitch any combination of Faugheen, Bennie Des Deaux, and Limini into the mix.
On the same day, you can also watch the Savills Chase (formerly the Lexus Chase) and this year’s renewal could be a high-class affair. Presenting Percy, Road To Respect, Belshill, Sizing John, Anibale Fly, and Total Recall all have entries and all have chances.
Odds Correct at Time of Publication