Christmas means lots of different things to a lot of people but for me, once the Chamberlin kids have opened all their presents, it’s all about the brilliant sport.
For starters, there is brilliant racing all over the place!
The resurgence of the great Kauto Star (4.8/5.0 on Betdaq) adds real spice to this year’s renewal and it will spark Boxing Day scenes that we haven’t seen since Desert Orchid if Kauto Star can regain his crown.
I’m sure Ruby Walsh will apply similar tactics to those he used with such success at Haydock in November. Nacarat and Golan Way will set a fierce pace with Kauto Star to the fore too, taking no prisoners, and I reckon this is going to be a brutal King George. Will Kauto star like he did at Haydock? Like many, I’d absolutely love him to win but I’m not sure he will as Paul Nicholls trained him to the minute for that contest and Kauto’s always been at his best with a big gap between his key races.
The former champion setting the pace will put plenty of pressure on the reigning champ, especially on his jumping. Long Run will have to jump better than he did at Haydock but he will be fitter and sharper on Boxing Day and is undoubtedly the most likely winner. I’m told he did a brilliant piece of work the other day and stable confidence is high but 2.26 on the Daq is plenty short enough.
Master Minded is going to have his stamina severely tested and I struggle to see him staying on in the straight.
It’s a race that could be ripe for a surprise as I think they will go fast from the off and set it up for a closer in the straight to pick up the pieces. I don’t think Somersby (16 to back) is the best horse in the race but I think the chips might fall perfectly for him. I’ve always thought three miles was going to be his trip and I’m hoping he hasn’t caught a bad case of seconditis. I think Somersby is worth chancing at 16 to cause an upset in a fascinating 2011 King George.
Welsh Grand National
Giles Cross nearly caused a major upset in last year’s Welsh Grand National when I tipped him at 34. We had to settle for second but I reckon he can go one better this time. Victor Dartnall has trained him specifically for the race this year and regrets not kicking on in the straight with him last time and putting the race to bed. He says they know the horse much better now and he will be ridden accordingly by Denis O’Regan who gets on brilliantly with him. Giles Cross also looks really well treated off only 4lbs higher than last year and his impressive win off a big weight at Fontwell. The usual Chepstow slog is tailor-made for this horse.
This will be a cracking contest with young guns Quito de la Roque and Rubi Light, who had far too much speed for Joncol last time out, at the head of the market. I fancy Joncol to turn the tables over the longer trip and more demanding track.
Best bet for Christmas
Rock On Ruby to win the Christmas Hurdle
Two more wins for Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s side have the look of champions and are trading even shorter at 1.66/1.67 on Betdaq. So City are top of the tree at Christmas for the first time since 1929 but will they stay there? Some will say that we don’t know how they will react to the pressure of a title run-in, with Manchester United breathing down their neck, but they look well equipped to me and the fact that they still have to play five of the top six teams at home is a massive factor.
City keep winning and breaking records so it must be demoralising to still have Manchester United hot on their heels, just two points behind. On Sunday morning Gary Neville described the matches at QPR and Fulham as ‘dogs’ of games so it’s no surprise the champions are trading at just 3 to back, 3.2 to lay after they came away from both games unscathed.
My next live game is alongside Gary on the Monday Night Football on Boxing Day with Stoke against Aston Villa. Stoke were second best on Wednesday night at the Etihad Stadium but have looked back to their menacing best at home of late and I enjoyed a chat over breakfast with a delighted Tony Pulis on Sunday in Manchester after their win against Wolves. Aston Villa were much improved against Arsenal this week but if they play like they have been on the road of late, they will be in for a tough evening as Stoke will, as Gary Neville says, swarm all over them like bees. Stoke could be a steal at 1.98 on the Daq.
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