RACING boff Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) bagged two 16/1 places in last weekend’s action. Here’s his take on the best Boxing Day bets.
Kempton 14.00 | Channel 4
The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase over three miles is one of the highlights of the year for young staying chasers and has been won by many horses on their way to the top, notably Coneygree, who took this race last year before winning the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Looking at the line up, its unlikely we'll see that repeated but it's a competitive looking race nonetheless.
Tea for Two created a huge impression on his chase debut stepping up massively on his hurdle form to dismantle a decent looking field. Taken literally, he deserves to be the price he is but I'm dead against him here.
In my opinion, he needs to make another big step forward to win this and at the prices he doesn't represent value. His Jockey Lizzie Kelly has very little big race experience and has only had three rides in the past two weeks, so there are too many negatives, for me.
His main market rival Native River looks the horse to beat with a solid win at Grade 2 level last time out. He had a decent hurdle career, falling just short of the top level, but looks like he'll take higher order over the larger obstacles. I think he will beat Tea for Two but I'm backing a bigger-priced rival who hasn't much to find with him.
Southfield Royal has had nine career starts and has been placed on eight occasions, winning five. He is a progressive young horse and at five years-old has the potential to go a long way.
He looks a thorough stayer and with rain expected before the off, any deterioration in the conditions will suit him. He won a Doncaster Grade 2 last time out, and though his job was made easier by the favourite falling, he won well and I believe is over priced at 7/1 (Bet365).
I'll be backing him each-way in this.
Kempton 14.35 | Channel 4
The Christmas Hurdle is one of my favourite races of the season and it sees one of my favourite horses trying to get his season back on track.
Faugheen lost for the first time in his glittering career last time and is out to show that run was all wrong. I believe he will win here but it's a fascinating race for second place.
There are four runners taking on Faugheen and they are all top horses. The New One was one of the most unlucky losers of a Champion Hurdle two seasons ago, and though he has won twice at the top level, he's still viewed as something of a nearly horse.
Though he was only beaten eight lengths in the Champion Hurdle last season, he doesn't seem to be the same horse as he once was, and it's possible he needs further now to be seen at his best.
If Nigel Twiston-Davies reads this, which I assume he does, I recommend he aims The New One at the World Hurdle at the Festival as I think he would have more chance than the Champion hurdle. I'm against The New One here.
Hargam and Old Guard met last time out with Old Guard winning on that occasion. He's one of the most progressive horses in training this season and if he continues on this upward curve then he will be challenging for major honours in the spring.
This represents a marked step up in class again, and though he could find the improvement needed, I am against him too. His best form is at Cheltenham and this represents a very different challenge; I'm not backing him.
Hargam looked like a horse to follow after coming third in the Triumph Hurdle last season but his form so far this season has been average. He will appreciate the track, and if the ground isn't too soft, he'll have a chance to reverse the form with Old Guard. However, until I see some of his old spark I'm not backing him either.
That leaves one, A Sign of a Victory. A Sign of a Victory has run 13 times in his career, including this race last season and the biggest price he has ever been was 15/2, which was on his debut in a bumper.
In this race, a race with only five runners, he is available to back at 66/1. Why?!?!
OK, his form went downhill after a lacklustre showing in this race 12 months ago, but he was 6/1 that day. On his seasonal debut he came fourth, giving lumps of weight away to some decent hurdlers. Not a performance screaming Grade 1 winner, but he isn't miles behind these rivals.
He won an all-weather maiden last time – again not a typical prep race for a Grade 1 but I see reasons for backing him each-way. He doesn't have much to find with Hargam or Old Guard and with The New One not impressing last time out, I am all over the 66/1 each-way (Paddy Power) on offer here.
Kempton 15.10 | Channel 4
The King George is one of the highlights of the season and this is a vintage King George. Unfortunately, due to first an ‘administration error’ and then injury there is no Coneygree lining up but almost every other top staying chaser is in attendance and personally I cannot wait to watch this race!
Where do we start? Silviniaco Conte has won the last two renewals of this race and cannot be underestimated. He's a horse I like a lot but I don't think he'll complete the hat-trick.
He's been below par on both occasions this season and, even if he does bounce back, he has probably got to run to a career best mark to win this, so I'm taking him on.
Smad Place was a sensational winner of the Hennessey last time out and he looks like a different horse this year. He has always had ability, but this will be his 11th attempt at Group 1 level and he's yet to win one.
This is the strongest race he's ever been in so his percentage call is to take him on, but I could see him sneaking into a place if showing the same zest as last time out.
This leaves me with a shortlist of four. Obviously Vatour, Don Cossack and Cue Card are on that list but I can't fully discount Al Ferof either. He was magnificent on his seasonal debut at Huntingdon, where he put in one of the best displays of jumping I have ever seen.
He's come third in the last two renewals of this race but he seems a different horse to me from last time.
I don't think he'll win but I'm tempted to back him to come in the first four on the exchanges when prices become available, I'd be hoping for 9/4.
Cue Card has been a revelation this season. After a breathing operation in the summer he won the Betfair Chase at Haydock in great style. As good as he was there, I'm not convinced that his main rival Silviniaco Conte ran his race, and the third-placed runner Dynaste looks a shadow of his former self. He takes on two of Irelands big guns here and I am prepared to oppose him.
Vatour put up the performance of the meeting at the Cheltenham Festival and is seen by many as a future Gold Cup winner. Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh love him and on his day he's sensational, but I'm not a member of the Vatour fan club.
He flopped in Ireland this time last year, and on his seasonal debut he made heavy weather of beating a lower rated rival who was conceding weight. He also jumps to the left on occasion and this right-handed track my not be ideal. He is a seriously talented animal, but backing a horse who is yet to win over three miles against rivals who have winning Grade 1 form over the distance isn't for me.
This leaves Don Cossack – what a horse he is. The star of the Gordon Elliott stable, he has won five Grade 1 races and his only defeat in his last nine starts was in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. His best form is at right-handed tracks and I expect this track to play to his strengths.
His performance at Aintree last season was top class and he is the highest rated chaser in training. He deserves to be favourite for this race and at 9/4, I make him a confident selection to cement his place at the top of the staying chase division.
Kempton 14.00 – Southfield Royal (7/1 each-way)
Kempton 14.35 – A Sign of a Victory (66/1 each-way)
Kempton 15.10 – Don Cossack to win (9/4 Bet365)
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