5 great races you don't want to miss this St Stephen's Day

The Christmas racing season gets off to a flying start in Leopardstown and Kempton this afternoon.

Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle (Leopardstown, 1.20pm)

Ruby Walsh onboard Kalkir clears the last on the way to winning Ruby Walsh and Kalkir were comfortable winners over Dai Bando the last time out. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The first “big” race of this year’s Leopardstown Festival sees a handful of the top Irish juveniles go head-to-head again over two miles. Willie Mullins’ Kalkir won at Fairyhouse last month and looks set to go off the odds-on favourite with Dai Bando, the runner-up that day, the best of the rest.

Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Kempton, 2pm)

Horse Racing - Kempton Racecourse Saphir Du Rheu has one win from two starts since switching to the bigger obstacles. Source: EMPICS Sport

There’s no Irish interest in this Grade 1 novice chase — most of the contingent from this side of the water go in Leopardstown on Sunday — but it will still be an interesting Cheltenham yardstick. Paul Nicholls’ Saphir Du Rheu started the season by unseating his rider at Newbury, but has won at Exeter since, and will start the three-mile trip as favourite. Christmas Hurdle (Kempton, 2.35pm)

Horse Racing - Ascot Racecourse Faugheen, far left, is already the red-hot favourite for the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

This is the latest chance to run the rule over the ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle, Willie Mullins’ machine Faugheen. The six-year-old has only been out once this season, a stroll at Ascot last month, and now bids for the third Grade 1 of his unbeaten career. Irving looks to be the only creditable challenger with the other Cheltenham hopefuls all steering clear for now.

Racing Post Novice Chase (Leopardstown, 2.55pm)

Ruby Walsh on Vautour on the way to victory 11/3/2014 Ruby Walsh (pictured) is in Kempton so Paul Townend gets the ride on Vautour today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If Faugheen is Irish racing’s most promising hurdler, Vautour is arguably its most exciting chaser. The feature race on day one of the Leopardstown Festival should be a relatively straightforward affair for the 2014 Supreme Novice, who won his first start over fences in Navan last month. Clarcam was a distant second that day while Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown saddle a second runner in Real Steel.

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William Hill King George VI Chase (Kempton, 3.10pm)

Horse Racing - Betfair Chase Day - Haydock Racecourse Cue Card led Silviniaco Conti for long stages of the Betfair Chase. Source: John Giles

This is the race of the day and nothing else even comes close to be honest. At least six of these will have their eyes on a possible tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and if they all stay up, we should be in for a cracker. Silviniaco Conti‘s Betfair win sees him head up the market but Cue Card, Dynaste and Menorah will all hope to turn the tables. Throw in Al Ferof and the only Irish challenger, Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever, and you can understand why you need to be at a TV at 3.10pm.

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Niall Kelly

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