Mike Cattermole picks the bones out of the festive racing and ponders whether Paul Nicholls might consider aiming Cyrname at the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
We expected fireworks in the King George on Boxing Day but in the end, the race fell apart and was a huge anti-climax.
That’s to take nothing away at all from Clan Des Obeaux who became yet another winner to successfully defend his King George title and of course the 11th to be trained by Paul Nicholls.
Nicholls still has years ahead of him and you wonder how many King George’s he will eventually bow out with - 15? 20?
Although he clearly beat a bunch of non-stayers, to win any Grade One chase by 21 lengths takes some doing and there is no doubt that Clan Des Obeaux is a wonderful chaser. Let’s remember, he has only just turned eight and will surely be returning with good prospects of a King George hat-trick in 12 months’ time.
Clearly, Kempton plays to his strengths and now Nicholls will look to see how he can squeeze a bit more out of him as he attempts the Gold Cup for a second time.
Last March, he was going well and disputing second place with Bristol De Mai approaching the second last before finishing fifth as Anibale Fly, Bristol and Native River found more up the hill. To me, he stayed the trip, but not as well as the others.
It wasn’t as if he stopped to a walk, he just wasn’t able to pick up and kept on at the same pace - still 15 lengths clear of the sixth horse, Elegant Escape.
History tells us that if you don’t get home well enough in the Gold Cup once, you are most unlikely to ever win the thing. Wayward Lad is perhaps the most famous example of this. He ran in five Gold Cups and was placed twice, finishing third to Bregawn in 1983 and second to Dawn Run in 1986 (his form figures were 3P825).
Will Clan be another Wayward Lad, who won three King Georges? I would imagine that Nicholls will be relishing the prospect of proving otherwise although the names of the Dickinson chaser, as well as One Man and Florida Pearl, who also faltered up the hill, are all going to be thrown at him regularly over the next two and a half months.
I was intrigued at the tactics on Cyrname on Boxing Day as he sat in behind Aso until taking it up at the fifth. Perhaps this betrayed the doubts his connections had about his staying the three miles. Indeed, the trip was definitely his undoing as he emptied quickly in the closing stages. What a shame.
However, it opens up other possibilities. No doubt he will head back to his beloved Ascot next month to defend his Ascot Chase title but this is a chaser who has bags of pace and I reckon that a crack at the Champion Chase is surely worth considering.
There is plenty of 16/1 and even 20/1 available about the Champion Chase and he is a general 10/1 for the Ryanair Chase, which might ultimately be the aim when they finally commit him to going left-handed.
He still has a very exciting future.
Meanwhile, it was good to see Kemboy back in action at in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown after his owners had eventually sorted out their administrative issues.
Kemboy would not be in Clan Des Obeaux’s class in jumping fluency and indeed he looked very rusty in that department here before his fourth place behind Delta Work. You would hope that this will sharpen him up somewhat before he tackles the Irish Gold Cup next month.
Remember, he didn't even make it over the first in the Gold Cup last year but then went on to prove himself the best around with a defeat of the Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo at Punchestown. Even that performance wasn't blemish-free.
However, in between, his nine-length demolition of Clan Des Obeaux at Aintree was simply outstanding – and he jumped really well that day, too.
Of the top staying chasers around, Kemboy probably has the best engine but his jumping technique remains a concern. I wonder what Willie Mullins has in mind to sort this out?
Meanwhile, Delta Work properly announced himself on the big stage with this victory to take his chase record to five from seven – and four of those have been at Grade One level.
Winner of the Pertemps Final in 2018, he has to enter the Gold Cup picture. Presenting Percy, who won the Pertemps the previous year, remains a bit of an enigma. His fifth place on Saturday was not a bad run but I am still not sure we know how good the 2018 RSA Chase winner really is.
I was at Taunton earlier this week where there was an enormous holiday crowd to see Marie’s Rock land the Listed Byerley Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle in some style.
The daughter of Milan had impressed at Haydock on her hurdling debut earlier in the month and she once again demonstrated an outstanding turn of foot here. She passed the post full of running and clearly has a very bright future.
She looks a genuine player for the Dawn Run Mares Novices’ Hurdle on the Thursday of the Festival and is a general 8-1, including with SkyBet.
Monday’s feature was one of three races affected by the bright sunshine and all of the hurdles down the back straight were taken out, meaning they only jumped four obstacles.
Sure, it was great to race under blue skies on a lovely day but the commentary box wasn’t the most comfortable place to be, especially looking down the home straight as you could see no colours and only silhouettes.
I guess it was the closest I have come to calling a race while looking through thick net curtains.
Both Bridget Andrews and Paige Fuller had winners on New Year’s Eve at Uttoxeter to cap a great year for the ladies in the NH game, while Hollie Doyle grabbed a single at Lingfield to end the year on a record 116 winners.
Let’s hope Hollie can kick on in 2020, along with Bryony Frost and Rachael Blackmore over the jumps.
Notebook and A Plus Tard gave Rachael two more winners at the highest level at Leopardstown to make it six for the calendar year – an outstanding achievement with surely more to come from the likes of Honeysuckle and Minella Indo into 2020.
Thyme Hill, who won the last Grade One of the year over here when landing the Challow Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday, doesn’t do anything spectacularly but every time he is faced with a tougher task, he steps up.
Incidentally, I noticed that Philip Hobbs’s gelding picked up just under £26,000 as the prize for the Berkshire course’s only race at the top level on the NH programme.
That's just under half of what Abacadabras picked up on Friday for his win in the Grade One Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.