Buveur D’air galloping to victory. (not our photo)

          By Samantha

Christmas Day came and went and Boxing Day arrived. The day most National Hunt fans look forward to and in some cases enjoy more than Christmas Day itself. The Christmas Period can be used to attempt to untangle the strings that lead to the Cheltenham Festival and find the winner of each race at the meeting. In some ways, things have become clearer but in other ways, it has made it a lot harder to work it out.

The Boxing Day coverage of ITV Racing began with the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton. Black Corton, a six year old son of Laverock out of Video Rock, won the Grade One race under Bryony Frost, giving the 3lbs claimer her first Group One victory. The gelding, who is trained by Paul Nicholls, reversed form with Elegant Escape who beat him into second on his previous start and this time around, Black Corton beat Colin Tizzard’s charge into second by one and a half lengths. The festival aim for the Jeremy-Kyle-owned gelding seems to be the RSA Chase and he enters the betting picture at around 25/1.

Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls’ main title challenger, struck back at Nicholls’ Grade 1 win with a win in the next race, the Unibet Christmas Hurdle. Last years Champion Hurdle winner, Buveur D’Air, galloped strongly to the finish, adding over £68,000 to his trainer’s pot for the season, under Barry Geraghty. The New One was second and the two outsiders finished with a four length gap between them.

Next was the King George VI Chase. It was a high class renewal containing last year’s winner Thistlecrack, Charlie Hall and BetFair Chase winner Bristol De Mai and quirky RSA winner Might Bite. Bristol De Mai made all until the tenth when when he made a mistake and Might Bite went to the front. At four out, Might Bite headed Nigel Twiston-Davies’ grey and went on. After jumping the last, 50/1 outsider Double Shuffle mounted a challenge on the son of scorpion but he repelled the challenge and won by a length under Gold Cup winning jockey Nico De Boinville.

Footpad is a short price for the Arkle. (not our photo)

Meanwhile, over in Ireland, racing fans witnessed a very exciting Novice in the form of Footpad. Owned by Isaac Suede and Simon Munir, the gelding went on in the final straight taking the last with ease and won the race by eleven lengths. His trainer Willie Mullins said afterwards, “He’s electric. From the first day at home that I saw him jumping over fences I thought he was the best I’ve seen for a long while. He was good on his debut at Navan but today he was just awesome. He gained lengths at his fences and he’s one to really look forward to.” Lots of people agreed with the Champion Trainer and consequently, his price has been slashed for the Arkle.

On the 27th, the card at Chepstow, containing the Welsh Grand National, was abandoned but that didn’t put a dampener on the days racing. ITV showed two Grade Twos from Kempton Park and both of these were won by Paul Nicholls. The supporting card at Wetherby contained some good races. The first Group Two shown was the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase. Sean Bowen steered Cyrname to win the race by seven lengths to 6/4 favorite Shantou Rock. The second leg of the double was the Desert Orchid Chase, Sam Twiston-Davies piloted Politologue to win the Desert Orchid Chase by thirteen lengths. 2017 Champion Chase winner Special Tiara crashed out at the eighth fence leaving Politologue in front. It was Sam’s first winner since breaking his elbow in a fall. He followed up that success by winning the next race with Titern Theatre for his father Nigel.

Politologue and Sam Twiston-Davies (not our photo)

Over in Ireland, there was one word to describe the racing at Leopardstown- DRAMATIC! In the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase, Min and Simply Ned were neck and neck as they ran up the run in but Min repeatedly pushed against Simply Ned causing him to loose his momentum. Despite crossing the line in front, Min was relegated to second after the race going to the stewards room. That concluded what was a good December for trainer Nicky Richards as he won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with Guitar Pete on the sixteenth. In the next race, evens favourite, Megli Khan, ran out through the wing of the third last fence unseating Jack Kennedy. Before viewers could process that, the last fence came and two Willie Mullins horses were in front, Real Steel and Shajar but they both horses fell, leaving Whiskey Sour in front. Patrick Mullins and Paul Townsend were clearly angry after hitting the deck at the last.

On Thursday, the main jumps racing action was at Leopardstown and Limerick. In the Christmas Hurdle, super mare Apple’s Jade stormed to victory for Davy Russell and Gordon Elliot. Her victory was marred by the untimely death of Nichols Canyon. He won the Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and a Listed race on the flat when he was trained by John Gosden and ridden by William Buick.

The main race of the day was the Christmas Chase also at Leopardstown. Sizing John, Gold Cup winner, was favourite to win the Grade One chase in a race that was also contested by Willie Mullins’ Djackadam and Yorkill and many Grade One winners. From quite far out, Sizing John and Djackadam were looking out paced and not comfortable. Before the last, Djackadam was pulled up with Sizing John and Yorkill toiling at the back of the field. At that fence, Road To Respect shot into the lead and battled up the straightto win by one and a quarter lengths with Balko Des Flos in second. It was a 1-2-3 of Gigginstown owned runners. Sad news came after the race that Grade One winning horse Zabana was put down after falling.

Most of the horses at the head of the market for the Gold Cup had performed unlike themselves over the christmas period and this sent the betting market into turmoil. No one knew who would win. The only horses that could be bet on with confidence at that time were King George winner Might Bite and unraced this season Native River. Since then, reasons have come out about the strange behavior of the horses, including Bristol De Mai being found to have stomach ulcers which were hurting him when he ran and Sizing John having a hint of hyperthermia.

Hurdler Faugheen took to the stage to show off his season’s credentials in the Grade One Ryanair Hurdle on Friday. Viewers did not get to see the winning spectacle they wanted though. He led up until three out and then faded very quickly. Paul Townsend dismounted him and led him back, saying that he didn’t feel like himself. The gelding passed all his post race checks. So maybe he was having an off day? Who knows. We just have to hope and pray that he won’t be ruled out like Douvan for the rest of the season and will bounce back and contest the Champion Hurdle in a duel against Buveur D’air.

poetic rythm
Neck-and-neck! (Not our photo) 

The centre piece of the racing shown on ITV on Saturday was the Challow Hurdle. It was an exciting race to say the least with Adrian Heskin taking the bull by the horns and making the race a staying test in the bottomless ground. Aboard Mulcahys Hill, the 16/1 outsider, Heskin kicked for home before three out and went clear. His mount and Poetic Rhythm jumped the last together and fought it out to the line to loose out by a short head.

It’s safe to say the Fergal O’Brien team went bonkers. ‘Gorgeous George’ as Poetic Rhythm is known at home was rushed to an equine hospital in early December with colic but now at the end of the month he is a Grade One winner! Just shows the hard work put into these horses by the people at home.

All in all, the week has been full of ups and downs and confusing moments but has truly summed up the spirit of horse racing. Bring on The Festival!

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