Christmas is almost upon us once again and with it comes some outstanding horse racing. Kempton’s host the William Hill Winter Festival, with the King George VI taking centre stage on the 26th and on the 27th we have the latest renewal of the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.
Meanwhile over in Ireland we have some really tremendous racing at Leopardstown which stages its annual four day Christmas meeting.
As tradition dictates I will be heading to Wetherby for their Boxing Day meeting and hoping for a few winners like all of us.
Another couple of short priced winners for the eyecatchers last week at 7/4 and evens but hopefully plenty of you would have been on Wakanda in the big handicap chase on Saturday at Ascot. I wrote in a previous column, when highlighting the run of the Last Samuri, “that it looks like it could turn out to be a race where the form is worth following”. The winner of Wakanda and the second Virak were once again 1st & 2nd in Saturday’s race with Wakanda winning at generous 8/1.
Next week the valuable Paddy Power Handicap Chase is run at Leopardstown and having looked at the race in a bit of detail at the prices I like the look of Empire of Dirt who ran well to be second at Punchestown last time out. Not the best of jumpers who either falls or wins. In his four previous starts his figures read F1FF. Good to see the eight year old get round in one piece this time. He kept jumping left here so will be better suited going the other way round in the Paddy Power and ticks plenty of box’s. Certainly has the ability to take a race of this nature and the 20/1 available with plenty of bookmaker’s looks a bit of value to me. No doubt I will have another dart at the race on the day but he rates a strong contender to me.
Sadly this week’s eyecatcher column is shorter than usual this week and doesn’t contain a review of this weekend’s action, as intended, because on Thursday my partner found out her father was knocked down and is now in intensive care fighting for his life.
There are only four eyecatchers in this weeks column but I have added two all weather horses to the software for Eycatcher Pro subscribers.
Wednesday December 16th
Red Devil Lads – Rebecca Curtis – The six year old continued the welcome to return to form for his trainer. A winner of three handicap chases in the spring he made a good seasonal reappearance to finish second to a fit and inform rival. At his best when able to dictate from the front he took up the running at the 2nd and led to three out before being headed by the eventual winner. He had tended to jump to his left most of the way, he will probably be seen to better effect when going left handed again, and possibly this speed favouring track didn’t totally play to his strengths either as all his wins have come on stiffer tracks. Beaten 5 lengths at the finish the run will probably have brought him on fitness wise and the improvement he made over fences in the spring may not have ended just yet.
O’Faolains Boy – Rebecca Curtis – The eight year old has had his training issues and has only raced twice since winning the RSA Novices Chase at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival when beating this years Hennessey winner Smad Place. A high class novice chaser he was never travelling on his seasonal reappearance and was soon pulled up when well behind Vautour at Ascot. He bounced back to form here when winning this Graduation Chase over just short of three miles. His jumping was superb all the way round and although he tired after the last this was not unsurprising as the ground was testing and this was effectively his first run for over 18 months. Hopefully he can build on this performance and maybe a tilt at the Gold Cup isn’t totally out of the question. When he won the RSA I had him down as real contender for the 2015 Gold Cup because of how well he handled the Cheltenham undulations. Trainer said after the race “He’s on a nice mark for the Welsh National” whether that race will come to soon for him after this hard race but if he was to line up for it he would tick plenty of the box’s required for a winner of that big race.
Saturday 19th December
The Young Master – Neil Mulholland – The six year old made great strides as a chaser last season and was first past the post in four races including winning this race last year. He next run was in the RSA at the Festival were he went off a well fancied 11/2 but wasn’t himself that day and finished well beaten. He had shaped well on his reappearance behind Saphir Du Rheu at Carlisle, before unseating his rider at the first in the Hennessey. He could only finish 4th in this year’s renewal but his performance was still promising. Normally up with the leaders they changed tactics today on him and after being held up he made steady headway from the rear to finish 3 ¼ lengths behind the winner. Only 6lb above his last winning mark and given his age there could still be a valuable pot in the horse.
O Maonlai – Tom George – The seven year old isn’t the easiest to train according to his trainer. Two from three on heavy he should have loved the going and was well backed to follow up his excellent recent second at Newbury. He didn’t build on that here and although he got himself into contention five out but he was never jumping as well as he had at Newbury and weakened after four out. Stamina shouldn’t have been an issue but his trainer stated after the race that it may have come too soon for his horse which seems a likely explanation for this run. He is a becoming a bit inconsistent but has only had seven starts over fences and there is still a handicap or two in the horse on the evidence of his Newbury performance.
Hopefully normal service will be resumed next Tuesday with a good luck at the big Christmas racing.
All that remains is to wish you all a peaceful Christmas.