They say that Christmas is a time for giving and although my fancies for the festive period are hardly nuggets of punting gold, I do hope that they will garner a profit for us over the next few days.
At the time of writing this column PP have No Comment as their 7/1 favourite for this traditional Christmas cracker and off a mark of 136 he has a comfy racing weight and with only six runs over the larger obstacles plenty of room to improve.
However, the fact remains he has yet to score over fences and this is a race which tests the younger and inexperienced horses to the core and my each-way vote goes the way of ROBIN DES FORET.
A prolific winner for Willie Mullins (five from eight over hurdles and three from 11 chasing) I thought he looked the best horse in the race when beaten four lengths by Burrows Saint in a Grade Three at Limerick in March. Tapped for speed at the business end that day, I fancy a rapidly run three miles will be his port of call.
He again gave that impression when a length off Warthog in the Caspian Caviar at Cheltenham.
If he has got over that opening salvo the selection is a big player here, if not, the substitute selection is SPIDER WEB. A regular in these big field staying chases and a cracking second to Cabaret Queen in the Munster National when last seen in October, if the ground dries out then he looks cracking each-way value at 12/1.
If the Paddy Power Chase is going to be a test of stamina, then the extended three and three-quarter miles of the Chepstow feature is a real slugfest!
Elegant Escape is a full 9lbs higher defending his title and although he has looked better than ever this year there is no mileage in backing him at 4/1.
To be fair this year’s race doesn’t have a lot of strength-in-depth and you can see both the next two in the market, Now McGinty (6/1) and Truckers Lodge (13/2), both running well with plenty more improvement left in their respective lockers.
But if there is going to be a shock this year then it could come in the form of BIG RIVER.
Lucinda Russell has always held this nine-year-old in the highest regard and based on his strong staying fourth in the Ultima Handicap Chase off a rating of 140 he has solid claims off a 3lbs lower mark.
The nine-year-old was absolutely hacking when brought down at the 14th in the Scottish Borders National Chase at Kelso and if his jumping holds up here, I think he is a mighty price at 16/1.
She showed a rare turn of foot to win at Newbury last time out to record a career-best and if she can up her game again, which she undoubtedly needs to do, then her odds for the Champion Hurdle (currently 16/1) could be worth taking before Boxing Day with that all-important mares’ allowance.
The biggest danger could come from stablemate and likely favourite Fusil Raffles, who was derided by press and tv pundits alike for his winning comeback in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. I thought he looked badly in need of the run that day and it was a perfectly reasonable start to his second season over timber.
Just 35 minutes later we have what should be a vintage renewal of the King George VI Chase, a race which holds great betting memories for me. Last year, following an eye-catching run in the Betfair Chase I backed Clan Des Obeaux at 33/1 and was duly rewarded.
There is little doubt that Thursday’s contest is a classier affair. Harry Cobden will have no margin for error on Cyrname if he lets fly from the front again; he must get his fractions absolutely spot on or pay for making any misjudgement down the home stretch. For the record, I think he will stay the trip under the correct ride.
I did consider Footpad as he looked a machine the season before last and came back with a bang this year and the fact that Willie is running him here says plenty. But I think he needs deep ground at the highest level and with very little rain forecast if it is genuinely good to soft ground, I can see LA BAGUE AU ROI in receipt of weight from the boys outrunning her current odds of 33/1.
She showed all was well with her again when just out speeded by quicker horses in the Peterborough Chase and I find it hard to forget her length and a half success over Topofthegame and Santini in last year’s Kauto Star.