Darlan a Christmas treat
Man On The Spot previews Kempton's Boxing Day card and the pick of the action from Leopardstown.
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12:50 Kempton: William Hill - No.1 Downloaded Betting App Novices' Hurdle
Asker and Cosimo de Medici are interesting converts from the Flat in this while Hung Parliament won a Listed race at Deauville as a two-year-old when trained by Tom Dascombe. Rysbrack was second over C&D last month but the pair to concentrate on may be Spirit Of Shankly and RIVER MAIGUE. The former was only beaten a length in a Listed race here in October on his hurdles bow but was surprisingly beaten at Ludlow next time so we'll give the vote to Nicky Henderson's charge, who ran a cracker when second to Dodging Bullets in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham last month and faces nothing of the winner's calibre in this. Dual bumper winner New Year's Eve is preferred to the penalised Kings Lad of the others.
13:25 Kempton: William Hill - Download The App Novices' Handicap Chase
Soft ground could pose problems for a few of these but Elenika and COOLE RIVER both have winning form on the surface. The latter was having his first start for Emma Lavelle when beaten just over two lengths by Grandioso at Wincanton. A very useful hurdler in Ireland, he looks a promising recruit to chasing and can score here as Monarch's Way has a penalty to overcome for his victory in a small race at Musselburgh and Grove Pride may be better over further. Milarrow was doing his best work at the finish when third over 2m1f at Newbury, however, and makes more appeal than Rajdhani Express and Aikideau.
14:00 Kempton: Kauto Star Feltham Novices' Chase (In Memory Of Nigel Clark) (Grade 1)
David Pipe won this last year with the smart Grands Crus and can repeat the trick with the equally-promising DYNASTE. A Grade 3 winner over hurdles, he's made a smooth transition to chasing and his Newbury defeat of Court In Motion was franked when the runner-up went one better in a Grade 2 at Lingfield earlier this month. Theatre Guide is easily held on Newbury running while Hadrian's Approach still has a bit to learn about jumping fences, though had every chance when falling in Harry Topper's race at Newbury last time. Haydock winner Poungach needs to find more while the trip could be a problem for Molotof and Third Intention on soft ground but it's interesting that Alan King is plunging Lovcen in at the deep end over the larger obstacles as he was one of the leading novice hurdlers of last season and has the size to make a chaser.
14:35 Kempton: williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1)
Nicky Henderson's runners in this Grade 1 always warrant respect and he's double-handed this year. Punjabi returns from a lengthy absence but it would be no surprise to see the former champion hurdler go well against younger rivals and he's unlikely to arrive here undercooked. But we prefer stablemate DARLAN to lay down a marker for Cheltenham in March by making a successful reappearance as you could argue that he didn't get the run of the race when only second to Cinders And Ashes in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season and the rest of his form was out of the top drawer. Cinders And Ashes was firmly put in his place by the ultra-tough Countrywide Flame in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and, though likely to be fitter here, may struggle to reverse that form while this is easily Dodging Bullets' toughest task to date. Get Me Out Here is arguably better over further and handicapper Raya Star may be a little out of his depth, though not as much as Mad Moose.
15:10 Kempton: William Hill King George VI Chase (Grade 1)
With no Kauto Star in the line-up this year, a new champion is waiting to be crowned though LONG RUN has little to prove. The seven-year-old had Kauto Star back in third when beating Riverside Theatre in this two years ago and won the Cheltenham Gold Cup that same season. He was only second to Paul Nicholls' former stable star last year but went down with all guns blazing and had The Giant Bolster behind when runner-up to Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on his reappearance - he's the one to beat again. Grands Crus was pulled up on his return to action in the Paddy Power and his participation here had been in doubt. But the grey shouldn't be underestimated as he won last year's Feltham in a canter and is still unexposed. Paul Nicholls is hoping Kauto Stone can star in his half-brother's absence, the six-year-old winning a Grade 1 at Down Royal last month, the first time he's scored at the highest level since arriving in this country. Champion Court will be up with the pace while Captain Chris beat For Non Stop on his reappearance at Ascot and was third in this last year. Cue Card is the dark horse as he's got to prove his stamina but he was hugely impressive in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and the Tizzards think the world of him.
15:45 Kempton: William Hill iPad App Now Available Handicap Hurdle
Hardly an ideal getting out stakes but Quaddick Lake continues to defy the handicapper and is worth a tilt at this better prize money. Henry Hook should be winning soon off his current mark, if not today, while Loose Chips won over C&D last month and is another with decent claims along with McCoy's mount Bathwick Brave, only beaten a short-head at Aintree earlier this month, and the luckless Saint Roque. But Martin Keighley is adept at placing his handicappers and we expect a big run from the lightly-raced FAULTLESS FEELINGS, who returned from a lay-off to finish an excellent second over a similar trip at Newbury and still looks well treated. Filbert could also go well from near the foot of the weights but Valid Reason doesn't always find a great deal off the bridle.
13:20 Leopardstown: Q8 OILS Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2)
Willie Mullins has introduced several very useful performers from France in recent weeks, none more so than BLOOD COTIL who cruised to victory on his debut for the champion trainer at Fairyhouse. He's taking on much stronger company but looks one to follow in the big races this season. Our Conor has to be a huge threat judged on his victory over today's rival Stocktons Wing at Fairyhouse when South South West was behind though a 3lb pull in the weights should enable the runner-up to get closer. Gordon Elliott has won this twice in the past three years so Fisher has to be respected despite his defeat at Kempton as he was attempting to concede 10lb to the winner and the remainder were well beaten. Money Spider is progressing nicely and her allowance will be a bonus.
14:55 Leopardstown: Racing Post Novice Chase (Grade 1)
Willie Mullins had a very strong entry at the five-day stage and relies on ARVIKA LIGEONNIERE. An easy winner on his chasing bow in May, he reappeared to take the Grade 1 Drinmore at Fairyhouse in very impressive fashion and today's shorter trip shouldn't prove a problem as he jumped superbly. He'll need to be every bit as good as connections believe to see off the attentions of Oscars Well, a very high-class hurdler who has every chance of proving just as good over fences judged on his tremendous performance at Navan where he jumped like an old hand. Dylan Ross was beaten 26 lengths and is well held and Baily Green's brilliant winning run came to an end when narrowly beaten by Twinlight in a Grade 2 at Punchestown. Benefficient produced one of the shocks of last season when landing the Grade 1 Deloitte over hurdles here in February and has done well over fences though he's up against potential champions here.