Week FIVE is going to be frenetic with no fewer than seven bonus races taking place over the Christmas period. Today, Ascot stages two of them in The Long Walk Hurdle and the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle. Going into Boxing Day Kempton is then host to the Christmas Hurdle and the King George VI Chase. That is followed up with the Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase at Chepstow on Wednesday, and the Christmas Chase and Ryanair Hurdle which conclude the four-day Christmas festival at Leopardstown.
Last week didn’t go to plan at all with both Le Prezien and The New One scoring duck eggs (0pts). Thankfully, Juvenile hurdler We Have A Dream (25pts) did manage to ensure points were scored for the week when taking the Summit Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster impressively. It did mean dropping down to 59th place but the damage was limited with Melon disappointing in the International Hurdle and sadly, Starchitect, who looked to be running away with the Caspian Caviar Handicap Chase, succumbing to a fatal injury two out. Both had been popular selections for the week.
A lot had to be taken into account in regards to transfers going into a busy Christmas period. At first glance, Le Prezien, We Have A Dream and The New One were the likely ones to be cut due to running last weekend, but with The New One entered to run in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton (a bonus race with a limited field) he is retained and Samcro is dropped with no likely engagement until after the New Year. Coming in for the trio are Min, who will take up an engagement at Leopardstown in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase, Footpad, who will run in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase and Apple’s Jade who is stepping up to three miles for the first time in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
This next week is likely to be a big one with all twelve of the stable’s runners likely to take the stage and it all kicks off with Unowhatimeanharry who is favourite for the Long Walk Hurdle (50pts) and Elgin in the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle (50pts). Both races are bonus races so there are decent points to be gained for second and third. The former isn’t getting any younger but he won this last year and is solid from a form perspective. Elgin, has been retained since his win in the Greatwood Hurdle and although he has top weight to carry he has Ascot form and is still improving. A mark of 151 is bordering Graded class and if he were to not turn up, he has an entry in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
On Boxing Day, Buveur D’Air takes up his intended next step towards a defence of his Champion Hurdle crown in the Christmas Hurdle (50pts) at Kempton and with it being a bonus race, with limited opposition he is given the “stable star” selection. The New One will also hopefully take up his engagement in the race to pick up some valuable place points. Staying at Kempton, Fox Norton steps up in trip to three miles for the first time in what looks a rather competitive renewal of the King George VI Chase (50pts). If he is to stay this trip then the flat speed track of Kempton is where he will. Over at Leopardstown, Footpad, as mentioned above, will run in the Racing Post Novice Chase (30pts), a race that Death Duty looks likely to sidestep so that he can take in the Grade 2 Novice Chase (20pts) at Limerick over two miles three furlongs on the same day.
On Wednesday the Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase at Chepstow will be an absolute slog and with Beware The Bear not a guaranteed runner the race has a very open look to it, so it has been the one bonus race left alone. Min will be the stables only runner for the day if he takes up his expected engagement in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Reward Club Chase (30pts). With Douvan injured and Un De Sceaux more likely to head to the UK for the Clarence House Chase next January, he looks a real class act in a division that has been pulled apart by injury.
Both Sizing John and Djakadam will lock horns again at Leopardstown in the Christmas Chase (50pts) and both should be up to scoring points in the feature of the four day meeting. The former has been top class since moving up in trip and should be very difficult to beat. Apple’s Jade is a warm favourite for the Christmas Hurdle (30pts) after beating Nichols Canyon in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle getting a mares allowance. It will be her first attempt at three miles and although she has been given the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham as her seasonal target, Gordon Elliott has been quoted as giving her targets that she can win and if she wins here the Stayer’s Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival shouldn’t be completely ruled out.
Finally, Faugheen returns to the racecourse after his Morgiana win and is odds-on to take the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle (50pts) against opposition that he should easily brush aside. There is a chance he could bounce after an impressive win after a long-term injury but again, as a bonus race there is points for the first three and something would have to improve vastly to better him.
With so many points on offer a lot can change in the course of this week……