There’s Grade 1 action at both Leopardstown and Limerick but it’s Kempton’s Ladbrokes-sponsored Christmas Festival that takes pride of place. Sunday’s festive extravaganza contains three Grade 1 contests and gets under way at 12.45. To make your horse racing betting even more exciting, below we listed the most attractive bookmakers where you can enjoy the ”Best
12.45 Ladbrokes Novices’ Hurdle, 2m
Trainer Nicky Henderson is invariably the man to follow at Kempton on Boxing Day. but he’s set us a poser here because he has four of the 12 entries. Which will he run?
Balco Coastal, an easy winner at Huntingdon earlier this month, heads the Henderson quartet. Bromfield Burg was a half-length runner-up in a Cheltenham handicap hurdle two weeks ago. First Street, a winner over longer trips at Bangor and Warwick before finishing a well beaten fifth in the Grade 2 Persian War Hurdle at Chepstow, drops back in distance in a bid to resume winning ways. Then there’s King Ottokar, who makes his hurdling debut, having been placed in Group company on the Flat for Charlie Fellowes.
Verdict: Rival trainer Paul Nicholls will try to spoil the Henderson Christmas party with recent all-the-way Taunton winner Paso Doble. However, Henderson holds the key and whoever he selects looks the one to be on.
1.55 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, 3m
This race kicks off the Group 1 proceedings and could feature a mouth-watering clash between Bravemansgame and Ahoy Senor.
Lucinda Russell’s front-running Ahoy Senor sauntered home 31 lengths clear of his toiling rivals in the Grade 2 John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury last month. Russell’s partner, former champion jockey Peter Scudamore, has gone on record as saying this is the best horse he’s ever been involved with. That’s some claim, given the many top-class horses he rode during his distinguished career.
Bravemansgame followed up a fluent Newton Abbot chasing debut success with an impressive victory in a 2m 5½f graduation chase at Haydock. Trainer Paul Nicholls has compared him with former stable star Denman at this stage of his career.
Nicholls has also entered Threeunderthrufive, who’s won his last three starts but only had to beat a total five other finishers. He will need to take a step forward to figure here. The same applies to Jamie Snowden’s Kiltealy Briggs, a neck winner of a 2m 5½f Haydock novice chase at the start of December.
Millers Bank won an ordinary five-runner novice chase at Huntingdon in October. Stepping up into Grade 2 company at Newbury next time, he was left clear by the fall four out of Pic D’Orhy (an impressive winner at Ascot last week), only to unseat his rider two fences later when still three lengths ahead. Tea Clipper finished a remote last of two to complete that race and looks set to struggle here.
Verdict: This has the makings of a real Christmas cracker if both Ahoy Senor and Bravemansgame stand their ground. The vote goes to AHOY SENOR to prove his Newbury romp was no fluke.
2.20 Christmas Hurdle, 2m
This features the rematch of Epatante and Not So Sleepy, who dead-heated amid the snow flurries in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle last month.
Epatante won this in 2019 on her way to winning the 2020 Champion Hurdle. However, last year she was turned over at odds of 5-1 on by the ill-fated Silver Streak, having kicked the third last hurdle out of the ground.
Moreover, she’ll be without the services of suspended regular rider Aidan Coleman in her bid to regain her crown.
Hughie Morrison’s Not So Sleepy had race fitness on his side when sharing the spoils with Epatante at Newcastle. He’d benefited from a run on the Flat five weeks earlier, whereas Epatante was returning from a 211-day break.
Their four rivals include Jonjo O’Neill’s Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory. He began his season by landing a decent handicap hurdle at Ascot on 30 October, conceding weight to all his rivals. However, he then finished a disappointing last of four when odds-on at Newbury. He needs to put that run behind him.
Alan King’s Tritonic would be an interesting contender if making a quick reappearance following his victory in a competitive handicap hurdle at Ascot last Saturday.
The field is completed by Goshen, whose limitations appear exposed following his well-beaten seventh behind Tritonic in that same Ascot race on Saturday; and Tom Lacey’s Glory And Fortune, who would need a big personal best to get involved.
Verdict: EPATANTE should atone for last year’s defeat and give Nicky Henderson a landmark tenth win in the race. However, she’ll need to bring her A game and jump with more fluency to see off Not So Sleepy.
3.05 King George VI Chase, 3m
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has made this race his own with a record 12 wins, including the last three runnings with Frodon last year and Clan Des Obeaux in 2018 and 2019. Both will try to win it again with the latter heading the market at 11-4 with several firms.
Frodon, Nicholls said recently, “keeps surprising us and may surprise us again”. The popular front-runner wears his heart on his sleeve and never shirks a battle. He has the perfect partner in Bryony Frost. Last year they were allowed to dictate the pace and came home 2¼ lengths clear of Waiting Patiently with Clan Des Obeaux a further six lengths back in third.
Frodon’s style of racing meant he didn’t stay the trip in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but he bounced back to win the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase at Sandown in April, then reappeared at Down Royal at the end of October to trounce Galvin and Gold Cup winner Minella Indo with another front-running display in the Champion Chase. Race sponsors Ladbrokes go a best-priced 5-1 about Frodon staging a repeat victory.
Clan Des Obeaux got too far behind Frodon last year and could never make up the ground. That won’t happen this time, Nicholls insists. Clan Des Obeaux ended last season with Grade 1 triumphs in Aintree’s Betway Bowl and the Punchestown Gold Cup in April. He’s yet to race this season. Nicholls resisted the temptation of running him in last month’s Betfair Chase in order to keep him fresh for this.
Nicholls has a third entry in Saint Calvados, who finished fourth last year, just a neck behind Clan Des Obeaux. This will be his first start for Nicholls, having previously been trained by Harry Whittingham. He’s not been seen since unseating his rider in the rerouted Cotswold Chase at Sandown in February. He looks very much the outsider of the Nicholls trio and is widely available around the 16-1 mark.
Seeking to end Nicholls’ domination is the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo. Trainer Henry De Bromhead describes him as being “in mighty form” and a horse that “comes alive when he travels”. He will certainly improve for the run at Down Royal when finishing third to Frodon. Paddy Power offer 3-1 about Minella Indo becoming the first Irish-trained King George winner since Kicking King won back-to-back renewals in 2004 and 2005. It may be worth noting that Minella Indo’s only success on a right-handed track came in a Grade 1 hurdle at Punchestown in May 2019.
Also from Ireland comes Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old rising star Asterion Forlonge, who is on offer at 6-1 with Betfred. He may well have won the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown on 5 December but for clouting the third last fence and unseating his rider.
Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House had Asterion Forlonge five lengths behind him in third when winning the Marsh Chase at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. Chantry House followed that by winning the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree. His only start since then was when beating a sole opponent at Sandown on 7 November. It was little more than a paid workout but should have put him right for this one. He’s an 11-2 chance with William Hill.
That win was following a 246-day absence and was his first race since undergoing wind surgery. Unibet go a best-priced 12-1 about him consigning his two previous dismal King George efforts to history.
The remainder of the ten-runner field includes a second Willie Mullins contender, Tornado Flyer, who was never in contention when finishing fifth in Punchestown’s John Durkan Chase. He’s a general 25-1 chance here. Nicky Henderson also has a second entry in Master Fisher. He finished just a neck behind Frodon in the Oaksey Chase at Sandown in April. That form theoretically puts him in with a chance, however he is yet to win beyond 2m 4½f, which may count against him in what is sure to be a true-run race. Most firms put him in at 33-1 but bet365 go a standout 40-1.
Rounding out the field is rank outsider Dashal Drasher, widely available at 66-1. A front-running Ascot specialist, he finished 15 lengths behind Lostintranslation when third there last time out. He’s sure to be prominent early but may find it hard to lay up with Frodon.
VERDICT: Paul Nicholls reckons Clan Des Obeaux has “a great chance of winning a third King George”. He’s likely to be ridden more aggressively than last year when three significant jumping errors put him on the back foot. Providing he puts in clean round, CLAN DES. OBEAUX will take all the beating. The rapidly improving Asterion Forlonge could prove the main danger.