The Longshot: Take the Hit with festive racing on Christmas menu

Can Munster get one over on their provincial rivals on Stephen's Day evening?
The Longshot: Take the Hit with festive racing on Christmas menu

We’ll stick our neck out and go for Hitman (seen here at Haydock) to take the King George at Kempton on the big day for festive racing.

THIS page tends to steer clear of racing for the most part. Generally because I don’t have time nor inclination to dive too deep into the sport. And even if you are a keen student of form, or an amateur horse whisperer, there’s no guarantee you’ll accumulate a bundle backing them.

I’m more of a horse shouter, albeit they can’t hear me because they are on the TV when I scream at them to go faster.

My only two interactions with members of the equine family are when one bit me while I was painting a fence and when four of them chased my dog and me across a field on Valentia Island.

But there is something nice about backing a winner simply because you like the name.

Otherwise I tend to concentrate on the bigger meetings or races. I emerged from Cheltenham last March taking more money out of my online account than I’d put in. It was the first time I was up at the festival in about two decades I’d guess.

I have always associated Stephen’s Day with racing. When I was younger, we’d head out for a few bets and a few pints and then head home to tackle the leftovers.

The King George is the big one. The Kempton race is a great standalone of course, but the winner will also be talked up for the Gold Cup.

Henry de Bromhead’s festival hero A Plus Tard will instead be running in Leopardstown on Wednesday when he will be 6/4 to win the Savills Steeplechase.

A Plus Tard was beaten a short head by Galvin (5/1) in this race last year and the defending champion is one of three entered for the race by Gordon Elliott alongside Irish Gold Cup winner Conflated and Fury Road. De Bromhead’s 2021 Gold Cup hero is 12/1.

Wednesday also sees the Jack de Bromhead Christmas Hurdle, named for Henry’s young son, who so tragically died while riding at the Glenbeigh races this year.

Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter is the 2/1 favourite for it.

Ireland’s sole envoy to the King George will be de Bromhead’s Envoi Allen, who is a 7/1. This horse won his first 11 starts under former trainer Gordon Elliott but didn’t recaptured that form for a long time after, but has been improving recently.

Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame, whose sole defeat over fences to date was at Aintree in April when below par, is the 13/8 favourite.

Nicholls’ also has Hitman in the race at 6/1, but Venetia Williams’ Lhomme Presse is fancied to be best placed to tackle the favourite and is priced at 2/1.

Six-year-old Hitman is sent over three miles for the first time but that Nicholls’ supplemented him for this attempt, you’d imagine the trainer believes the distance will not be a problem.

The highlight of Day One of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival is the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Steeplechase and Fil Dor is 4/5 favourite to romp home in that.

Munster might finally overcome the Blues

LEINSTER will arrive in Thomond Park on Stephen’s Day evening 21 points ahead of their provincial rivals.

They top the URC standings having won all nine of their matches and they have also secured two easy Champions Cup victories in recent weeks to maintain a perfect start to the season in all competitions.

The points gap is mostly down to a very poor start to the season by Munster, but recent performances have been more positive for Graham Rowntree’s men.

It’s two months since their last derby meeting, with Leinster, who were 27-13 winners at Lansdowne Road, which was Munster’s fourth defeat in their opening six games of the URC.

But they have now won four of their last five, and picked up a losing bonus-point against Toulouse in the opening round of the Champions Cup.

Last weekend they bounced back from that defeat by grinding out a win in terrible weather in Northampton, putting up a strong defensive display in the second half.

The festive meeting of Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park has been a staple of the Irish rugby calendar for some time, but it’s three years since the sides have been able to renew their rivalry on Stephen’s Day, with Covid seeing the 2020 and 2021 games postponed.

Leinster have won nine of the last 10 meetings, including three in Limerick and it’s not surprising they are 4/7 favourites.

However, the Blues are expected to put out a second-string line-up (which will still be extremely strong) so I’d give Munster a decent chance to finally get some joy against Leo Cullen’s men.

They are 7/4 to continue heading in the right direction.

The chances of South African World Cup winner RG Snyman being back on the pitch for Munster during the festive season look unlikely with the province still unable to put a date on when he might return.

The Springbok has endured an injury nightmare since joining Munster two years ago and is still battling back from his second cruciate injury, having played just 54 minutes across four games for the province.

Snooker suspends more players

WHILE we were concentrating on the action over in Qatar in recent weeks, there has been plenty of shenanigans reported in the land of the green baize.

Snooker bosses have suspended five players over an ongoing match-fixing investigation.

In the biggest such probe in the history of the sport. Chinese players Yan Bingtao, Lu Ning, Li Hang, Zhao Jianbo, Bai Langning and Chang Bingyu have been barred from attending or competing on the tour. It follows the suspension of former English Open winner Liang Wenbo, 35, in October over a probe into unspecified allegations of misconduct Dublin-based former World Champ Shaun Murphy has said anyone found guilty needs to be banned from the game for life: “I hope we never see them again. If any player thinks they can get away with it, they’re completely foolish because we can find it easily.” Which is true, because odd betting patterns can be quickly enough identified by bookies.

But it does give you pause when considering backing cue action.

It is worth pointing out that players from the Far East might have found themselves coming under pressure from gangs to throw matches. Some reports have suggested their families may have been threatened. Which would at least offer some defence for their actions, if wrongdoing is established.

FA investigate possible betting breach by Toney

ALSO in hot water over gambling allegations is Brentford’s Ivan Toney.

The striker who felt snubbed when not included in England’s 26-man squad for the World Cup, was charged with 30 additional breaches of the Football Association’s betting rules this week, after being charged in November with 232 alleged breaches over a four-year period.

The probe into these alleged offences has been ongoing seven months.

The FA, Premier League and Football League have strict rules governing player’s betting on football.

They are prohibited from betting, either directly or indirectly, on any football match or competition that takes place anywhere in the world.

Joey Barton was given an 18-month ban in 2017 after placing 1,260 bets on football between 2006 and 2016.

England World Cup squad member Kieran Trippier, who was banned from football activity for 10 weeks and handed a £70,000 fine for telling a friend to “lump on” the prospect of him joining Atletico Madrid before his switch from Tottenham in 2019. Daniel Sturridge was punished for disclosing inside information about a transfer too. After initially being given a six-week suspension, his punishment was increased to a four-month ban and £150,000 fine after it was found he had instructed his brother to bet on a January 2018 move to Sevilla.

There is no suggestion yet that Toney tried to influence games he was participating in himself. But he is facing a ban of at least six months if he is found to have bet on his own team. He has until January to respond to the charges.

Toney has scored 11 goals this season, including both in Brentford’s shock 2-1 win at Man City in their final fixture before the World Cup.

The Bet

WE’LL advise Hitman to shoot down older rivals in the big one at Kempton on Monday at 6/1.

Munster have it in their locker to see off a Leinster line-up that should be without some star players.

They’re 3/1 to be up at half-time and up at full-time. I’ll be in the stands so I hope they can earn me a few pints for after the game.

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