Simon Holt reckons Silver Steak is the value play in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton - he has three Boxing Day selections in total.
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While disappointingly uncompetitive that Altior, perhaps the most popular horse in training, has been swerved away from Boxing Day's prestigious King George VI Chase in favour of the Desert Orchid on Friday, the Kempton showpiece still looks a race to savour.
With unproven stayers in the six-runner field (Cyrname, Aso, Footpad), Lostintranslation may provide the answer after his Betfair Chase defeat of Bristol De Mai confirmed that he will get every yard of this flat three miles. Colin Tizzard's gelding looks a rising star and jumps for fun.
Cyrname, the highest rated chaser in the country, is bound to give them all something to think about with his trademark front-running tactics but he has never gone this far, and his favourite Ascot, where he beat Altior first time out, is a very different right-handed course. The consensus seems to be that he will stay well and, if he does, his evident class may see him home.
However, Kempton's flat - some would say easy - three miles is deceptively challenging as the pace is usually on from the start and many jockeys have said there are few chances to get a breather. Most King George winners have needed to stay extremely well.
Clan Des Obeaux, last year's hero, is the other main contender having found enough 12 months ago to outpoint Thistlecrack. But it looks a stronger race this time and Harry Cobden, stable jockey to Paul Nicholls, has deserted him in favour of Cyrname. It should be a thriller but there is little value in the market.
Earlier, the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle is full of intriguing possibilities with Nicky Henderson fielding two exceptionally promising types in Fusil Raffles and Epatante (up in class) along with last year's winner Verdana Blue.
The latter is clear top-rated at the weights (in receipt of her mare's allowance) but will need the ground to dry up a bit, and she was over eight lengths adrift of SILVER STREAK in last season's Champion Hurdle in which the latter ran an honourable third behind the impressive but ill-fated winner Espoir D'Allen.
Silver Streak has often been a bit under-rated, including by his trainer Evan Williams who doesn't like to get too over-excited, but the grey has become a smart hurdler. He has run well on both his starts this season, winning easily over this course and distance and then being caught out of his ground in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle before finishing strongly behind Cornerstone Lad and Buveur D'Air.
If Adam Wedge's mount can avoid making his usual jumping error, I think he's a bit over-priced especially considering that he had Grand Sancy beaten when that rival fell here in October after which Grand Sancy made Fusil Raffles work hard at Wincanton.
In the Ladbrokes 'Where The Nation Plays' Novices' Handicap Chase (2m4f), it's possible that COMMANCHE RED is well handicapped.
The winner of a bumper on this course in 2018, Chris Gordon's gelding has run two solid races over fences so far, finishing third behind the smart Nube Negra at Warwick and then filling the same position over this trip behind Reserve Tank at Wincanton.
While the official handicapper has Commanche Red rated 137 here, I calculate that he could be up to 7lb better and Gordon's horses are in good form at the moment.
Likely favourite Simply The Betts has been impressive at Chepstow and Newcastle over two miles but needs to prove his stamina here.
At Wetherby, ROCCO catches the eye over the three miles of the 888Sport Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase.
Successful from subsequent winner King's Odyssey at Stratford (2m3f) in late October, the six-year-old has looked in need of a greater stamina test in his two latest efforts, especially when finishing off well to take second behind the promising Nicky Henderson-trained Pistol Whipped at Leicester (2m6f) where he jumped the last in fifth place.
A good third over three miles at Cheltenham as a novice hurdler, Rocco can take advantage of some hefty weight concessions from well exposed rivals.
Posted at 0900 GMT on 24/12/19
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