King George VI Chase – Kempton
The festive highlight is set to be a good challenge between the UK and Ireland this year, with a few big guns set to make the trip over the Irish sea for Kempton on Boxing Day.
Gold Cup winner Minella Indo looks like making his way over, as to avoid a clash with his stablemate A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase. The home challenge will be headed by dual winner of this contest, Clan Des Obeaux, who will have been trained to the minute for this by Paul Nicholls. He outlined early this campaign that his star would be heading straight to this race as his first outing of the season. Given Clan Des Obeaux is unsuited by Cheltenham, this is his Gold Cup. To be honest I’m not sure I’d put anyone off the 3/1 available as it looks about fair.
For all he’s a Gold Cup winner, Minella Indo can be a bit in and out, and I also wouldn’t be mad on him going right-handed. He’s been beaten both times going that way, once when comfortably taken down by Laurina at Gowran Park and the other was when beaten by Frodon last time at Down Royal. It’s not to say he’s not effective right-handed, but it’s enough to put a doubt in my mind.
To me, the one horse that is cracking value in here is Asterion Forlonge. Yep, I said it.
He definitely has his quirks, there’s no two ways about that. But he must go right-handed, so I see this as his opportunity to win a big one. I’ve no doubt he has the ability, and I don’t think Willie Mullins doubts it either. A Grade 1 winning two mile hurdler, Patrick and Willie have both been quoted in his earlier days saying he’s a stayer. The furthest he’s gone is two mile five furlongs, when he was soundly beaten by Monkfish at Leopardstown, and when he tore apart a handicap off top weight at Punchestown in April. He jumped really well on that occasion, which certainly can’t be said of all his runs given he’s fallen twice and unseated in the John Durkan last time.
The latter race is fascinating though, as prior to unseating, he again jumped well, and he didn’t even jump the fence badly, he just knuckled on landing which knocked Bryan Cooper off his back. He was tanking up to join Allaho at that stage and to be honest, even though it was far enough out, I’m fairly comfortable saying he would have won.
Asterion Forlonge hasn’t been tried at three miles, but nothing about his racing says he won’t get it, and from what his connections have said in the past, he’ll probably relish it. He comes with risks attached, but even so, he’s more like a 6/1 shot than a 10/1 shot.
Recommended Bet – Back Asterion Forlonge @ 10/1
Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase – Leopardstown
You’re all probably going to think I’ve had too many mulled wines after reading this section, but please hear me out! Firstly, I can’t see Willie Mullins running Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi against each other here, plus Allaho isn’t going to run either. So that eliminates a couple from the top of the market.
On all known form, Energumene should stroll through this. But the ground at Cork when he produced a scintillating performance in the Hilly Way was pretty soft. Himself and Notebook went a relentless gallop and the latter fell out the back of the telly, which shows how strong the pace was. No matter how good Energumene is, it’s hard to think that effort won’t have left some sort of a mark. How many times do we see freakish performances in those quality races on tiring ground, and they’re not backed up – quite a number. Therefore, I think there’s a definite chance he won’t be at his peak.
The one to take advantage can be Envoi Allen. Again, yep, I said it.
He showed so much potential for a while, but his form has flatlined over fences and in truth, he hasn’t really beaten much over the larger obstacles, and he has definitely been overrated.
However, I think dropping him to two miles could be a stroke of genius. He was talked about as a Gold Cup horse, but I’m not really sure why. Is he slow? No. Is the strongest part of his race the final furlong? Again, I would personally say no. He’s got pace and plenty of it, I wouldn’t say he’s been keen, but he’s been enthusiastic. In the John Durkan he was on the leaders’ tails and to me looked as though he wanted to be going faster. His jumping wasn’t especially fluent, but that’s something where I think he’ll improve if he goes quicker.
Class has got him wins over two and a half miles, and his speed has got him in the positions to do that. He’s definitely worth a go dropping in trip, and I think he’ll be better for it, and if Energumene underperforms, he can easily beat the rest of this field. 2/1 is the biggest price he’s been under rules, so the offering of 13/2 here for a race which I think could be the springboard he needs, is simply too good to pass up.
Recommended Bet – Back Envoi Allen @ 13/2
Welsh Grand National – Chepstow
It seems a few have had this race on their radar for a while. Last year’s winner Secret Reprieve hasn’t been seen since triumphing off a mark 134 here and is only off 140 now. Whether that absence was planned I’m not sure, but he has to be near the top of everyone’s shortlist. The Big Dog was given a quiet ride out the back of the field in a handicap hurdle at Navan as a prep last time and is another National winner, this time at Punchestown. However, the one leaping out at me is Ask Me Early, who is thriving at present.
He’s won three of his four chase starts, including two at Chepstow, and latterly at Uttoxeter off just four pounds lower than he is for this contest. Harry Fry has run him in two novice hurdles this season, winning them both. This has kept Ask Me Early’s eye in and in great form, whilst keeping his chase mark where it is. I think this is a really good bit of training. His course form is rock solid, he’s a good jumper, handles any ground and stays strongly. There is a lot to like, and he ticks all the boxes. For a bit of insurance at a bigger price, I can’t let Ramses De Teillee go unbacked.
He won the Welsh Grand National Trial in 2018 before going on to finish second in the big event off 144 behind Elegant Escape. He’s won a handicap off a rating of 149 since, so is handicapped to go well. Having gone off the boil from December 2020, I saw encouraging signs at Haydock last time when he was only beaten four lengths, conceding weight all round.
If he builds on that then I think he’s got a real chance of running a big race.
Recommended Bets – Back Ask Me Early @ 7/1 Win and Back Ramses De Teillee @ 25/1 Each Way
Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle & Stayers’ Hurdle
The staying hurdle division remains pretty open. Klassical Dream has clearly had his problems as he’s only been seen once since December 2019, but that only time was extremely impressive when winning at Punchestown over this trip. He’s short enough in both markets though. Last year’s victor of both contests, Flooring Porter, has been pulled up and fell since. I would imagine his improvement has halted, although he’s obviously still near the top of his game, but I think others are wise to his tactics now and he won’t get such uncontested leads. Buzz and Thyme Hill head the home challenge at Cheltenham, but I’m not sure Thyme Hill is a top notch grade 1 animal, and Buzz was beaten by my selection at Aintree.
Abacadabras wouldn’t be the first name on everyone’s lips when talking about stayers, but this could open up a whole new avenue for him. I actually thought he was going to challenge Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle last year, and he may well have done but for taking a tumble. He went on to win the Aintree Hurdle on his first try at two and a half miles, evidently relishing the extra distance. He absolutely needed his first run in the Hatton’s Grace in November and in truth, he was never in a position to land a blow. I think connections have accepted the fact that beating Honeysuckle is almost impossible, so the plan is to step up in trip.
Ridden cold over three miles, when Flooring Porter is setting a good gallop, could be just what the doctor ordered. I’m not honestly sure if he’ll stay the trip or not, but I hope he does. I can see him travelling up smoothly, what happens after that is anyone’s guess. But he’ll be ready to win at Christmas as they’ll want to find out if he stays or not, then if he does, he’ll be much, much shorter for Cheltenham in March.
Recommended Bets – Back Abacadabras @ 8/1 for the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle and Back Abacadabras @ 20/1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle
Supreme Novices Hurdle
There was a bit of an early shock for this race when Kilcruit was beaten at 1/14 on his hurdling debut, which opened up the market a bit. Jonbon is favourite on price tag and pedigree more than what he’s achieved, but they’re all pointers to a horse’s ability. He jumped really well on debut, and I imagine he’s going to be pretty close to a top notcher, but on a price basis, he should be bigger in my view. Nicky Henderson’s other horse should be clear favourite.
People often get carried away with novice performances, we see it time and time again, but get carried away all you like with Constitution Hill as this horse is a beast.
What he did at Sandown was just ridiculous. For a debut under rules, you would not and could not ask for more. He was as relaxed as a ten year old chaser and by all accounts is the same at home, as Henderson said he thought he wasn’t very good for a while! But those are the horses that are the best, they save their energy for the track.
Jumping well, he cruised behind the leaders, quickened with the already smart Might Eye at the second last, then produced some sort of extraterrestrial burst after the last, to leave that rival in the dust, fourteen lengths adrift, with the third a further seventeen lengths back. Not only was it good visually, but it was also sensational on the clock as well. His final furlong was 14.26 seconds, the next fastest final furlong on the same card, which included two grade 1 chases, was 16.34 seconds. That’s extraordinary. He seems to have everything you’d want in a racehorse, and I can’t wait to see him again.
Recommended Bet – Back Constitution Hill @ 4/1
Allaho laid down a pretty solid claim to become the second dual winner of this contest in claiming the John Durkan on his seasonal reappearance. He’s far from unbeatable, as his record suggests, and something in particular is enticing me to have a bet in this race. That main thing being I can’t see a lot of the horses in the betting even running.
Envoi Allen might, but probably not if he wins at Leopardstown, Shishkin and Energumene won’t run. Fakir d’Oudairies isn’t quite good enough and Protektorat will probably go for the Gold Cup. So that’s a few that can already be eliminated. This one is slightly left field, but at the prices I think he’s worth chancing and that’s Eldorado Allen. He was runner up to Shishkin in the Arkle having been ridden patiently after a strong pace was set by Allmankind and Captain Guinness.
I can see another fast pace in the Ryanair, with Allaho not liking to hang about, then the potential of Allmankind and/or Shan Blue in the mix as well, setting the race up for a closer such as Eldorado Allen to pick up the pieces and run in to a place at least. The longer straight of the new course should also play to his strengths more than the old course that the Arkle takes place on. Eldorado Allen has had a couple of goes at two and a half miles, the first at Aintree where he just never really fired. The second was in the Peterborough Chase, just when the Tizzard yard was starting to lose a bit of form, but he still ran well in third, finishing strongly having looked as though he was struggling when the taps got turned on. I wouldn’t be sure he’s good enough to win this, but I think the race is right up his street with the longer straight and slightly longer distance than he’s tried so far.
Recommended Bet – Back Eldorado Allen @ 33/1 Each Way
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
2021 was the first time Willie Mullins failed to claim this trophy, but I expect normal service to be resumed in 2022. He has two of the top three in the market at this stage, with Grangee and Statuaire alongside Elle Est Belle. Statuaire won a grade 1 against males last time, but the impression I got was they were a little surprised and if she was going to win a big race, that was it. It was only an RPR of 133 which is very low for a race of that level, and I’d be surprised if her stablemate Grangee doesn’t prove to be better.
Elle Est Belle was third in the Champion Bumper last season and made it second time lucky over hurdles in Listed company at Newbury. It was a bit anticlimactic with favourite Nina The Terrier falling at the last, although Elle Est Belle would have won anyway, I think. She’s a good mare, but her jumping is only okay and when push comes to shove, as usually happens, Mullins will have something up his sleeve that’s just that little bit better.
Grangee was behind Elle Est Belle in the Champion Bumper but was better either side of that when winning a Grade 2 and a Grade 3. Her hurdling debut was sparkling, her jumping in particular, was very slick, fast and accurate.
When I first looked at the market, she was 8/11 to win that day and went off 2/7, so it’s safe to say she was expected to win! They went slow but she did everything right and didn’t get out of second gear. Straightforward and versatile, she’s improving and simply has a lot to like about her chances here.
Recommended Bet – Back Grangee @ 8/1
Alex Peperell – www.thepeptalk.co.uk