Jane Mangan previews a Christmas feast of top-class racing action

Jane Mangan previews a Christmas feast of top-class racing action

Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend (far side) land over the last fence to win from Santini (behind) and Lostintranslation (near) for trainer Willie Mullins and owners Joe & Marie Donnelly in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1) of £625,000. Picture: Healy Racing

RESTRICTIONS — social distancing — masks.

This year has been challenging and with further doom and gloom on an already murky horizon, let’s instead concentrate on what’s really important over Christmas... the fantastic racing!

Kempton stages three Grade 1 races on December 26 with Epatante looking pretty un-opposable in the Christmas Hurdle while The Big Breakaway seeks to get his career back on track in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

Paul Nicholls trained Kauto Star to win five King George VI Chases and this year, he’ll be hoping to enhance his own impressive record by winning the race for a 12th time.

Clan Des Obeaux might have disappointed in a few Gold Cups but he has owned Kempton and this very race for the last two years.

Brilliant horses such as Captain Christy, Pendil, The Fellow, Wayward Lad, One Man, Kicking King and Silviniaco Conti were all multiple winners of this race but failed to land three consecutive wins.

Aside from Kauto Star winning four in a row, only the great Desert Orchid in the late '80s early '90s completed a hat-trick of King George VI wins.

Still only an eight-year-old, Clan Des Obeaux has time on his side and a run under his belt but this is no cakewalk and his main danger probably comes from within his own stable.

Cyrname returned with a vengeance in the Charlie Hall and comes into this race as the highest-rated chaser in Britain.

Thrashed by Clas Des Obeaux in last year’s renewal, it’s brave of Nicholls to pitch the pair against each other once again but he obviously believes the result could be closer than last year’s 21 length margin.

To add further intrigue to the race, Nicky Henderson has opted to supplement last year’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini for the race, a move that could prove lucrative following the news that Irish raider Monalee can’t travel following recommendations from the Irish government.

Epatante and Aidan Coleman win for owner JP McManus and trainer Nicky Henderson. Picture: Healy Racing
Epatante and Aidan Coleman win for owner JP McManus and trainer Nicky Henderson. Picture: Healy Racing

Essentially, the King George is a stellar race and this year’s renewal is no different.

History suggests that Clan Des Obeaux must be a freak to win a third in a row but legends are made in this race, just look at the roll of honour!

On the home front, I will be in Leopardstown for the four-day festival which features countless star attractions and no less than seven Grade 1 races.

Tuesday’s Matheson Hurdle will be a small but select field — a tactical affair no doubt but I am looking forward to the rematch from the Morgiana Hurdle of Abacadabras and Saint Roi.

One would expect the latter to reverse the form but would anybody be surprised if Sharjah spoiled their party?

Second to Epatante at Cheltenham in March and already twice a winner of this race, Sharjah is particularly effective at Leopardstown and will appreciate following the aforementioned pair into that long home straight! Will the cat catch the mouse?

The Savills Chase is a mouth-watering affair with any number of heavyweight chasers lining up to take their chance.

Last year, Delta Work narrowly denied Monalee, Road To Respect, Kemboy and Presenting Percy in a sedately run affair and while many of these will line up again next Monday, perhaps a certain Minella Indo can go one better for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore?

A dual Grade 1 winning novice hurdler, Minella Indo was collared close home by Champ in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in what was an agonising defeat for connections.

Despite being beaten, Minella Indo has established himself as a future Gold Cup candidate and with two effortless wins to his name this term, he looks in pole position to make an impact in open company.

Delta Work disappointed in the Gold Cup and wasn’t at his best on his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal but rest assured that Gordon Elliott will have him in tip-top shape for this race.

Aside from the aforementioned races, there are a few other horses to note over the festive period too. Keep an eye out for Quilixios on day one of Leopardstown while Monkfirsh could close proceedings in style over fences on Tuesday.

Best of luck and Merry Christmas!

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