Donn McClean's Christmas Crackers
Donn McClean with the five horses he hopes can help cover the Christmas expenses.
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So you think you will get all you wanted? You think the Big Man will fulfill your (wish) list in its entirety? The Welsh National winner? The Paddy Power winner? In a treble with the winner of the two-mile handicap chase at Leopardstown on Thursday? Unlikely, but you never know. You should probably meet the Big Man half-way and buy a ticket.
Here are five horses that you might consider putting on the ticket.
Mount Benbulben, King George VI Chase, Kempton, Thursday Current best odds: 14/1
Speaking of lists, Mount Benbulben has a long list of factors to overcome if he is to win a King George. History tells us that double-figure-priced horses struggle in the Boxing Day feature, and that course form - which he does not have - is paramount. Put that with the fact that the Gordon Elliott-trained gelding is coming into the race on the back of a non-completion, and that he has upwards of 14lb to find with the top-rated horses in the race on official ratings, and it is easy to understand why he is a 14/1 shot.
That said, there are reasons for believing that the son of Beneficial might be up to the challenge. He was a high-class novice hurdler two seasons ago and, while it took him a little while to get his eye in over fences last season, he ended it by winning the Grade 1 Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival by over 20 lengths.
Significantly, that was the first time that he raced right-handed over three miles, and it was the best performance of his life. He is much better going right than he is going left - six of his seven wins under Rules have been at right-handed tracks - and he is a horse with an engine who stays three miles well and who relishes soft ground.
It is not ideal that he unseated his rider at the fourth last fence in the JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal on his most recent run, but he was travelling well at the time, and it is reasonable to assume that he would have at least given his stable companion Roi Du Mee a race. He might well have won and, if he had, he would be a lot shorter for the King George than he is.
He has been down to jumps guru Con Power in the meantime, and he has reportedly schooled well since. Always been held in the highest regard by his trainer and by owner Barry Connell, Thursday's race has been on his radar since the start of the season and, if he and Danny Mullins can get into a nice rhythm early on in the race, he could out-perform his odds by a fair way.
Kid Cassidy, Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase, Leopardstown, Friday Current best odds: 13/2
Kid Cassidy is a really interesting inclusion among the entries for the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown on Friday. He still has to prove that he is capable of mixing it among Grade 1 opposition, he has never even run in a Grade 1 race yet, but there are reasons for believing that he could be up to this class.
For starters, he beat Sire De Grugy in the Schloer Chase at Cheltenham's November meeting, and Gary Moore's horse obviously upheld that form when he landed the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown nine days ago.
Admittedly, JP McManus' horse did have the race run to suit at Cheltenham that day. Special Tiara set a fast pace from early, and Kid Cassidy was delivered by AP McCoy with precision timing to pick up Sire De Grugy on the run-in. Even so, it was a high-class performance, in receipt of just 10lb from a horse rated 19lb his superior.
Always highly-regarded by the champ since he was a young horse, the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding is a keen-going sort and, as such, he is at his best off a fast pace. Crucially, he looks set to have that fast pace in the Dial-A-Bet Chase on Friday. Several of his probable rivals like to lead or race prominently. Special Tiara only knows one way, Arvika Ligeonniere, Sizing Europe, Hidden Cyclone and Realt Mor all like to race prominently, while Baily Green and Benefficient have led in the past. The race could set up nicely for Kid Cassidy.
Arvika Ligeonniere and Sizing Europe set a really high standard. However, Arvika is probably at his best over two and a half miles and going right-handed. He did win the Grade 1 novices' race over Friday's course and distance at this meeting last year, but two miles at a left-handed track probably doesn't represent optimum conditions for him.
Sizing Europe is an unbelievable racehorse, his longevity a testament to his own constitution and to trainer Henry de Bromhead's horse management skills. However, he will be four days short of his 12th birthday on Friday, and he just may be vulnerable to younger legs over the minimum trip.
Kid Cassidy put up the best performance of his career up to that point when he finished second to Alderwood in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham last March, the pair of them clear, when he hit the front earlier than ideal. He stepped up on that performance when he beat Sire De Grugy last month. He is probably going to have to step forward again if he is going to beat Arvika Ligeonniere and Sizing Europe - officially rated 11lb and 5lb his superior - but he is only seven, and he may not have finished progressing yet.
Goonyella, Welsh Grand National, Chepstow, Saturday Current best odds: 10/1
Goonyella could run a big race in the Welsh National on Saturday. Jim Dreaper's horse has a lot of the attributes that you look for in a Welsh National contender, and the fact that this race has been on the trainer's mind for him for a little while is significant.
Goonyella majors on stamina. One of the top hunter chasers in Ireland last season, you can easily put a line through his disappointing run in the Irish National as his saddle slipped, but he bounced back to win a good handicap chase over three miles and six furlongs at Punchestown in April on heavy ground, coming from no better than 10th place on rounding the home turn and staying on relentlessly over the last two fences to get up and beat Vesper Bell by a head.
Second to the useful Count Salazar at Galway on his debut this term over an inadequate two miles and six furlongs, he ran a cracker to finish fifth in the Troytown Chase at Navan on his most recent run. The Troytown is usually a gruelling contest, run, as it usually is, on soft or heavy ground up Navan's stiff finishing incline. This year, however, the official ground was good to yielding, and it did not demand the reserves of stamina that it usually does. On top of that, Goonyella raced prominently throughout, which was not ideal in a race in which five of the first six home had been held up.
He raced off a mark of 136 in the Troytown, and he races off just a 2lb higher mark on Saturday, which is a mark that he could surpass by a fair way when stamina is at a premium. He is still short of his seventh birthday, he still has plenty of scope for progression as a staying chaser.
If top weight Tidal Bay stands his ground in Saturday's race, Goonyella will get to race with just 10st 1lb on his back, and that will be ideal. Perhaps unusually for a son of Presenting, he should relish the soft ground that usually prevails in a Welsh National and, significantly, Jim Dreaper knows what it takes to win this race, having won it with Notre Pere in 2008.
Sir Des Champs, Lexus Chase, Leopardstown, Saturday Current best odds: 11/4
Bobs Worth is as short as 7/4 in places for Saturday's Lexus Chase, while you can back Sir Des Champs at 11/4, and that disparity may just be too great.
It is great for the race and for the meeting that last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and runner-up look set to clash in the Lexus Chase, but both have questions to answer now. Haydock's tight configuration and lack of energy-sapping hills wouldn't have been ideal for Bobs Worth for his seasonal return in the Betfair Chase last month, but he was still beaten a long way by Cue Card into sixth place. Leopardstown's galloping nature and stiff finish will suit him much better, but he still has to bounce back from a disappointing seasonal debut.
Sir Des Champs took a mother and father of a fall at the third fence on his debut this season in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown. He had never fallen before in his life, and it looked like it was simply down to a lack of concentration. He is reportedly in fine form again, none the worse for his mis-hap, which is great news, because it looked like a hard fall.
The Gigginstown House horse does have seven lengths to make up on Bobs Worth on their running in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, but there are reasons for believing that he can make up the ground. For starters, the Lexus is run over three miles exactly, not three miles and two and a half furlongs. If the winning post at Cheltenham last March had been moved two and a half furlongs down the course, you might have had a different result.
Also, the Lexus is a home game for Sir Des Champs - he just has to drive up the motorway from Closutton - whereas it is an away gig for Bobs Worth. It is the return leg after the Cheltenham Gold Cup, when the Willie Mullins-trained horse was the one who had to do all the travelling.
Rubi Ball is an exciting addition to the Mullins ranks, and he could out-run his odds if he is allowed take his chance, but Sir Des Champs is probably the most likely winner of the race.
Morning Assembly, Topaz Chase, Leopardstown, Sunday Current best odds: 3/1
The Topaz Chase on Sunday could be one of the most interesting races of the entire week, with several of the most exciting staying novice chasers in Ireland set to take each other on, and the intriguing possibility of the Paul Nicholls-trained Black Thunder - three for three over fences to date - making the trip from Ditcheat.
Ballycasey is a hugely exciting prospect, and he was really impressive on his chasing bow over an inadequate extended two miles at Navan, when he jumped superbly for a debutant and stayed on really well to beat Mount Colah and Ned Buntline, an impressive winner back at Navan on Saturday. However, there probably shouldn't be as much between Willie Mullins' horse and Morning Assembly in the betting as there is.
The Pat Fahy-trained gelding actually had Ballycasey seven lengths back in third place when he won the Grade 1 three-mile novices' hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in April. Of course, form over hurdles does not always transfer to fences, but early indications are that Morning Assembly is going to be at least as good a chaser as he was a hurdler.
Impressive in beating Si C'Etait Vrai and Clonbanan Lad over two and a half miles on his chasing bow at Punchestown, he stepped forward from that to beat the highly talented Don Cossack over two miles and six furlongs on his most recent start. The pair of them went toe-to-toe over the final two fences, and it ultimately appeared to be Morning Assembly's superior stamina that got him home, the two of them clear, and Don Cossack added ballast to that form when he won the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse earlier this month.
The step up to three miles should bring about even further improvement from Steve Parkin's horse. He was a good second to Sizing Gold in a maiden hurdle at this meeting last year on his only run at Leopardstown, he is reported to be in rude health by his trainer, and he should run a big race.