*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change
*Odds quoted on the widget are Future Racing / Antepost prices which means that if your selection does not run in the race for whatever reason – you will lose your stake under traditional Antepost rules, Final declarations for Dec 26 are on Dec 24 and other follow from Sunday onwards.
A small field will go to post for the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but it still has the makings of a thrilling contest between two of the best novices we’ve seen so far this season. In one corner we have Ahoy Senor, an impressive 31-length winner of a Grade 2 at Newbury last time, and in the other we have Bravemansgame, who is unbeaten in two starts over fences to date.
Ahoy Senor had the upper hand when the pair met in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April, but both horses have left that form well behind since switching to chasing, with very little to separate them on Timeform ratings. It’s unlikely that we’ve seen the best of either horse just yet, and this race should go a long way to deciding the pecking order amongst the staying novice chasers in Britain.
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Rachael Blackmore made the wrong call in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, eventually having to settle for second as A Plus Tard chased home stablemate Minella Indo, a horse she had ridden in all bar one of his previous starts over obstacles. That was a rare blip for Blackmore in 2021, though, and she’ll be hoping to end a spectacular year in style, with A Plus Tard and Minella Indo both featuring in a quality book of rides over Christmas.
Minella Indo will be the first in action in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, and then A Plus Tard will attempt to repeat his 2020 victory in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown two days later. They are the two highest-rated staying chasers in training, so both horses look sure to take plenty of beating in their respective races. As such, there must be a good chance that Blackmore will be making headlines again in the next few days.
Desert Orchard Chase, Dec 27 (14:30)
After being ruled out of the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown earlier this month, Shishkin will hopefully make his belated return to action in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on Monday. Shishkin was Timeform’s highest-rated novice chaser last season as he went unbeaten in five starts, winning them by a cumulative margin of nearly 60 lengths and showing all the qualities of a top-class two-mile chaser.
His superiority was never more apparent than when winning the Sporting Life Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival, where he took control of the race from a long way out and sauntered clear in the straight to win by 12 lengths. The fact we haven’t seen Shishkin so far this season has given his supporters cause for concern, but a smooth victory in the Desert Orchid should see him consolidate his position at the top of the ante-post betting for the 2022 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
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Chepstow, Dec 27. (14;50) Welsh Grand National
No horse has won back-to-back renewals of the Welsh Grand National since Bonanza Boy in 1988 and 1989, but that’s what Secret Reprieve will be trying to do at Chepstow on Monday. This will be Secret Reprieve’s first appearance on a racecourse since this race last year, but it’s worth remembering just how impressive he was when successful on that occasion.
Settled in mid-division in the early stages, he travelled powerfully and always seemed to be doing enough after being produced to lead three out, just needing to be kept up to his work to land the spoils by three lengths. The lack of a recent run is obviously a concern, but Secret Reprieve still looks to have plenty in his favour. After all, he is only 6 lb higher in the weights than last year and there must be a good chance that he hasn’t finished improving yet, still just a seven-year-old with relatively few miles on the clock.
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Leopardstown, Dec 29 (14:20)
Sharjah is another horse who will be trying to make a bit of history over Christmas as he seeks a fourth successive victory in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on Wednesday. For context, only two horses have previously won that race more than three times, namely Istabraq and Hurricane Fly, two of the greatest two-mile hurdlers of the modern era.
Admittedly, it would be pushing it to suggest that Sharjah is in the same league as those two horses in terms of ability – he isn’t even the best two-mile hurdler in training at present given that Honeysuckle has beaten him every time they have met. That shouldn’t detract from anything that Sharjah has achieved, though, and he shaped as if retaining all his ability when making a winning reappearance in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown last month. Honeysuckle won’t be in action at Leopardstown over Christmas and, when that is the case, Sharjah is usually the one to take advantage.
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