It has been some week for jumps racing.
I was gutted when I heard the news that Kempton Park may be sold for housing. Nicky Henderson is synonymous with the London track and I was leading jockey there for years when I rode for him.
The King George VI Chase is the jewel in the crown there and having grown up watching Wayward Lad, Desert Orchard & Nupsala triumph in the 1980s, it was brilliant to finally win it aboard See More Business in 1999.
I get the reasons for selling the track, the site is worth a lot of money for housing and the profits can be reinvested into other racing projects. There are times though when the heart rules the head and this is firmly one of them. Kempton is too good a jumps track to lose.
Gold Cup fallout
We were just digesting that news when we heard that reigning Gold Cup champ Don Cossack was being retired – after it was confirmed that 2015 winner Coneygree won’t make the race either.
The Bradstock’s made a big call not to enter their stable star for jumps’ racing showpiece event, so I hope that decision is rewarded and he returns fully-fit to kick-on in the Spring.
It just shows how well trainers like Paul Nicholls and Henrietta Knight did to get the likes of Best Mate, Kauto Star and Denman to the Cotswolds year after year. People underestimate the strain it puts horses under to win Championship races at the Festival. Those past champions must have had iron constitutions.
Colin Tizzard holds all the aces now with Thistlecrack, Native River and Alary who we may see next week – but I’d still love to see Cue Card in the line-up come March 17.
Either way, we’re going to crown a new Gold Cup champion this year.
The 2m 5f Lanzarote Hurdle is the feature at Kempton on Saturday and it could get very testing if the forecast rain and snow arrives.
Jonjo O’Neill’s Doesyourdogbite looks a deserving favourite after his smooth success over course and distance last time.
He’s unbeaten in three hurdle races now and there was a lot to like about his last success where everything fell into place for him. However, I’m siding with Paul Nicholls’ MODUS who ran better than the bare form suggests when seventh to Brain Power at Ascot and has been consistent in his three runs over 2m this season.
Stepping up to 2m 5f on Saturday will allow Barry Geraghty to take his time with him and weave past beaten horses. The race could be set up for him.
Will O The West didn’t run at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day because of the soft ground. If he lines up here he could go well off his feather weight.
Show some sparkle
Warwick is one of the toughest jumping tracks in the UK and is not for the faint-hearted. I like to make sure any selection has a bit of previous form here if possible.
Shotgun Paddy is a previous winner of the Classic Chase 3.35pm and the way the race sets up could suit him. He’ll run behind the pace and try to pick them off. He won here in 2014 off a rating of 145 and races off 139 on Saturday.
Viva Steve was a good winner for Fergal O’Brien’s yard at Ayr and could be improving. He was fancied for the Welsh Grand National but didn’t make the final field and this 3m 5f stamina test should be right up his street.
But I’m going to take Sego Success to win it. He’s won a novice chase here and was favourite for the race 12 months ago when rated 146. He races in blinkers for the first time on Saturday and if they spark him, he could take a fair bit of beating off a mark of 140.
Vaniteux (2.05pm) has always threatened to win a big one and has a fantastic record at Kempton. He was narrowly beaten by Ar Mad in the Wayward Lad Chase last year and the step up in trip should suit him. Its only a small field so should not turn into a slog.
The 3m Handicap Chase at 3.15 is a bit of a puzzle but Kruzhlinin and Sandy Beach will be popular with punters. I am keen to give another chance to Silvergrove at an each-way price. If he can rediscover the form that showed him finishing third to Cause Of Causes at Cheltenham, he has to be involved.
Warwick is a track where jumping counts for a lot and American is a great jumper who was foot perfect at Exeter. He gets my vote in the novice chase at 1.50pm.
The handicap hurdle at Warwick 2.25pm could see Cogry run a big race again, up 6lb for a game success at Cheltenham. He will handle ground conditions and stays really well. Harry Whittington’s Kilgeel Hill is one to keep an eye on after a lay-off. This horse has solid form and is handicapped to run well.
Willoughby Court (Warwick 3pm) finished fifth in the bumper at the Aintree festival last season and was an impressive winner of an above-average novice hurdle at the track last time. I know Ben Pauling has really high hopes for this horse. Evan Williams’ Gayebury is one I really like though and could be really competitive here.