Matt Tombs / Tuesday 24th December 2013 / 12:55
1pt Cue Card to win the King George @ 7/2
The King George is shaping up into a cracking renewal, with all the main British Gold Cup hopefuls, other than Bobs Worth, lining up. 4 of the first 5 in the market ran in the Betfair Chase which Cue Card (7/2) won impressively by 4 1/2 l from Dynaste with Silviniaco Conti another 1 1/4 l away 3rd and Long Run another 15l away 4th, (3m1f, soft). Given that the 1f shorter trip, on ground that is unlikely to be worse than at Haydock, may suit Cue Card better - it could be argued he should be a lot shorter to confirm the form.
I'm not worried about him bombing out on heavy ground in this last season when making a couple of mistakes early on. He goes right handed, (RPRs of 170 and 172 at Exeter,) and I think its much more likely that the combination of heavy ground, (the only times he's run on it), and those early mistakes were the reason for his poor display. One factor against him here is that he had the advantage of a run before Haydock, whereas Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti hadn't. With so many horses coming on hugely for the run this autumn, both have some chance of reversing the form.
Dynaste (7/2) was having his first race outside novice company in the Betfair and ran a blinder having been conservatively ridden. He was an impressive winner of a heavy ground Feltham last season, albeit against a substandard field - so the track will suit. Second season chasers have a poor record, (only Kicking King and Long Run have won this century,) but he does have more obvious scope for improvement than most of these. All that said, you'd expect him to a bigger price than Cue Card given he beat him pretty decisively at Haydock.
Silviniaco Conti (5/1) looked to blow up in the Betfair and plenty of the Nicholls horses are improving more than usual for the run this season - so he has prospects of finding the 5 3/4 l Cue Card beat him there. The rain will have helped him as he stays well and the balance of his form suggests a flat track should suit. That said, he bypassed this race last year with Paul Nicholls suggesting Kempton wouldn't be his course. Paul will doubtless say that the riding arrangements are for consistency as Noel Fehily rode him at Haydock whilst stable jockey Daryl Jacob was on Al Ferof at Ascot. However, the suspicion is that the Ditcheat team think he's their No2.
Al Ferof (9/2) was an impressive winner of the Paddy Power off 159 on his sole run last season. He missed the rest of that season with a minor setback and returned to hack up in a match at Ascot, (2m3f, good.) He beat French Opera (who was getting 6lb) an easy 8l, and French Opera was then a close 2nd off 150. Al Ferof's last 2 runs suggest he's well up to championship standard. The issue is stamina. He's not run over further than an extended 2m4f under rules and whilst he shapes as if he'll stay, it has to be a concern. The likes of Kicking King hadn't proved their stamina either but the fancy prices have gone and he's about right in the market now.
It's a fascinating race, but it's hard to understand why Cue Card isn't shorter. He won going away in the Betfair and this test ought to suit better. Plenty of Colin Tizzard's horses have been running well despite the well documented problems and if the vibes are good I expect him to start a lot shorter.
Britain only has 2 realistic Champion Hurdle contenders this season and it's great that The New One (Evens) and My Tent Or Yours (5/4) take each other on in the Christmas Hurdle, (2m). The New One was originally chalked up at odds on but plenty of money for My Tent Or Yours has them both available at odds against. The sharp track and lack of obvious front runner ought to really favour My Tent Or Yours who is a speedier type. He seems fine on soft ground, but didn't look to handle heavy the one time he ran on it (beaten at 4/11.)
The ground is soft - but last year was the first time ever that this card was run on heavy ground and the water table is a lot lower now. The less rain the better but he ought to go on the ground. Both are really classy, unexposed second season hurdlers and it'd be foolish to be dogmatic about what will happen. However, Kempton looks perfectly set up for My Tent Or Yours and he gets the vote.
1pt My Tent Or Yours to win the Christmas Hurdle @ 5/4
A fantastic 4 days at Leopardstown kicks off on Thursday with the Grade 1 2m1f novice chase. The ground is soft there too, although there isn't much more rain forecast before Thursday and so with the drainage they have there it may not ride too testing for the start of the meeting.
I'm a fan of Champagne Fever who looks a cracking prospect but 2/5 is a silly price against some quality opposition. He's priced up on his Festival wins in the Bumper and Supreme and Ruby Walsh's bullishness, rather than his chase form - especially over this trip. The form of his beginners chase win hasn't been tested that much, but nothing that he beat has done anything for the form. He did run a couple of poor races last season and so isn't the ultra dependable type you'd want if you're taking 2/5.
Everything suggests he'll be a stayer over fences and whether he'll have the toe to beat specialist 2 milers is questionable. The Festival Bumper has produced 5 Grade 1 chase winners but Cue Card, Pizarro, Florida Pearl and Alexander Banquet all won their Grade 1s at 2 1/2 m or further. Missed That is the only Festival Bumper winner to win a Grade 1 around the minimum trip, (he won this race.)
Ted Veale is tempting as 11/1 is a big price for a pointer, who finished ahead of Champagne Fever in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in the spring. If I thought he'd be primed for this, he'd be the selection at the prices as the race could be run to suit a hold up horse. However, watching his 3rd to Dodging Bullets on his chasing debut at Cheltenham again, I wonder if he's being laid out for the Grand Annual - and the ground has gone against him a bit now.
Defy Logic (6/1) looks a pure 2 miler and has recorded an RPR 10lb higher than Champagne Fever in both his chase starts. He demolished subsequent winner Golanbrook by 19l at Naas and was then 2 1/2 l 2nd to Felix Yonger in a Grade 2 at Punchestown. That looked the best Arkle trial so far, (pair pulled well clear of a stack of chase winners.)
I think Champagne Fever has plenty to prove over 2m1f against a good field ansd 2/5 looks far too short - he'll surely drift by post time. Defy Logic has looked a Grade 1 horse in his two runs this season and with the trip favouring him, he's great value to turn the favourite over.
1pt Defy Logic win the Racing Post Novice Chase @ 6/1
The fields aren't confirmed yet for some of the big races at Leopardstown later in the week, and with more rain forecast towards the end of the meeting, I'm holding fire for most of them rather than betting ante-post. However, I'm making an exception for the Grade 1 3m novice chase. Whilst it obviously depends on the state of the ground, this tends to be won by real stayers such as Back In Focus (won the 4 miler,) Bostons Angel (RSA), Pandorama, (Lexus) and Notre Pere (Welsh National.) The last two won this on yielding and good to yielding ground, so even if more rain doesn't arrive, stamina will be at a premium.
On all known form Morning Assembly (9/4) should be favourite. He beat Ballycasey 7l in a 3m Grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown. He's 2/2 over fences having stayed on to beat Don Cossack (7/2) by 1/2 l at Punchestown, (2m6f, yielding), shaping as if the step up in trip will suit him much better than the runner-up, (who may not reoppose.) Whilst he won't have Ruby Walsh's assistance this time if Ballycasey lines up, he rates a strong fancy.
Ballycasey (15/8) is the one to be afraid of as he's held in really high regard by the Mullins camp. He made a successful chasing debut over an inadequete 2m1f at Navan, (good to yielding). He stayed on to beat Mount Colah, (beaten 16 1/2 l by Mozoltov next time) with 1/2 l back to the well regarded Ned Buntline in 3rd, (who subsequently won a beginners.) That form is a long way short of what's required here and he's priced up on reputation, albeit one formed by such shrewd connections. Bright New Dawn made a good start to his chasing career at Punchestown but is a bit shorter than I'd expected at 5/1 and if he travels over Black Thunder (7/1) might give Morning Assembly most to do.
Morning Assembly looks a really big price for this and if the ground gets more testing that would suit him much more than Ballycasey. He's been underestimated coming from his small but capable yard and I think he'll go off favourite. He's the best bet of the meeting.
1pt Morning Assembly to win the Topaz Novice Chase @ 9/4