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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 20 April 2021
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Mark your Card: your best bets for the St Stephen’s Day Super 6

Horse racing waits for no man – Declan Smyth picks the winners from a bumper day of Grade racing in Ireland and the UK.

Image: ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

PUNTERS COULD BE forgiven for thinking that there is only one race worth taking about over the Christmas period given the amount of coverage and hype ahead of this afternoon’s King George VI Chase at Kempton Park. If the people generating the hype are looking for a new racing hero, they might be better off waiting until later in the week when some top class horses go toe to toe with each other in Leopardstown.

King George VI Chase (Grade 1)

The ground at Kempton will be very testing for the three-mile King George (3.10pm) and there are question marks over most of the 10 runners declared.

Captain Chris finished a long way back in third last year behind Kauto Star and Long Run and, while going right handed will help him, he has a lot to do to reverse form with Long Run. Champion Court will have to find a lot more to figure here while For Non Stop is unproven at this trip having burst a blood vessel when trying it previously.

Cue Card has promised a lot since winning the Cheltenham Bumper in 2010. He has run some good races since, both in defeat and victory, but has never tackled a trip further than 2m4f. It would take a big leap of faith to be confident about him on what will be extremely testing ground.

Grand Crus put up a very smart performance over course and distance to beat Silviniaco Conti in the novice chase on Kempton’s St Stephen’s Day card last year. He has disappointed twice since though and then had a wind operation after his last run. A lot of horses seem to need a run after these ops and though he is fitted with a tongue tie, it’s hard to be confident about him in what will be a real slog.

Junior has been supplemented for the race in the hope of exploiting the unproven stamina of some of the runners but he should find a few better than him.

Kauto Stone won over the three-mile trip at Down Royal in November, and the early price of 8/1 could be good each-way value. He’ll have to find a good bit of improvement to win though.

Riverside Theatre has been trained with this race in mind, his first run of the season. He has improved since he was beaten here in 2010 by Long Run and if he handles the heavy ground, Nicky Henderson’s second runner will be a player.

The Giant Bolster ran on to finish second behind Synchronised in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. He then reappeared in the Betfred Chase at Haydock where he was third, five lengths behind runner-up Long Run.

The latter has been dropped 6lbs in the ratings since that run, but with today in mind, connections may not have wanted a hard race for him that day and he will improve. It looks that he is now an out-and-out galloper and so it will be interesting to see if Sam Waley-Cohen brings him close to the pace and kicks on sooner to bring his undoubted stamina into play and test that of his opponents.

With so many questions to be answered, it’s best to stick with LONG RUN’S proven form in the race — although stick to small stakes in this one.

Feltham Chase (Grade 1)

Amid all of the King George hype, the two other Grade 1 races on the Kempton card appear to have been ignored.

The Feltham Chase over 3m (2pm) looks to be at the mercy of Dynaste who has hacked up in his two starts over fences. Poungach is probably the best of the rest while Lovcen makes his chasing debut but did win a point-to-point.

Bar an accident, it’s hard to see beyond DYNASTE.

Dynaste and Tom Scudamore jump clear (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1)

The Christmas Hurdle has attracted a cracking field; however the race is going to be dictated by the going and quite a few of these are running into the unknown.

Cinders and Ashes has won on heavy. That said, he was a well beaten 12l behind another of today’s opponents Countrywide Flame in the Fighting Fifth in similar conditions despite travelling on the bridle until three from home. While he was up against a fitter horse that day, it is a lot of ground to make up.

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Darlan was withdrawn from his last engagement because of the ground and this high class horse’s ability to stay in contention on really testing ground must be in doubt. Another high class horse, Dodging Bullets, is a stepping up in class and is another one who is untried on the ground.

Get Me Out Of Here and Mad Moose have a lot to do while Punjabi has been off the track since April 2010. Raya Star is stepping up in class but goes on soft and so may be each-way value if all eight runners go to post.

However COUNTRYWIDE FLAME showed a good turn of foot in difficult conditions the last day and can continue the good run for connections.

Greenmount Novice Chase (Grade 2)

Down in Limerick, five have been declared for the Grade 2 Greenmount Novice chase over 2m3f 120yds (1.40pm).

Mikael D’Haguenet will be a short-priced favourite following a resurgence in form, and we know he acts on the expected heavy going. Far Away Close has a fair bit to make up on official ratings as do Snooze and Tillahow.

If there’s anyone take on the favourite it’s Argocat, a son of Montjeu out of a Giant’s Causeway mare. He was a very impressive winner over 2m4f at Limerick in October before he dropped back in trip and subsequently finished second to the well-regarded Twinlight, a run which suggests he likes a bit longer.

ARGOCAT is only a four-year-old, but the 11lb allowance he gets can make a big difference and he could give Tom Taaffe and owners the Hays a nice Christmas winner.

Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2)

Leopardstown is always popular at Christmas and there is a good card this afternoon, with eight runners in the Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle (1.20pm).

Our Conor has impressed on his two starts over hurdles, winning easily on both occasions with a few of today’s opponents trailing behind. He carries a 3lb penalty but should still be involved in the finish.

That penalty would seem to bring Stockton’s Wing into it on the basis of their Fairyhouse run but he was always held that day and still needs to improve some if he is to reverse placings, while Crouching Harry and South South West were also well held.

Willie Mullins does well with horses he gets from France and BLOOD COTIL hosed up on his debut for the stable in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in November. It’s significant that the trainer relies on him for this race. He probably didn’t beat a lot that day but is obviously highly regarded and could be open to a lot of improvement.

Racing Post Novice Chase (Grade 1)

The Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase over 2m1f (2.55pm) is one of the races of the day. Only five have been declared but it could be a great spectacle.

Arvika Ligeonniere made a big impression at Fairyhouse at the beginning of the month, but circumstances may have played into his hands. Dedigout was ridden a lot differently that day to his previous run where he raced closer to a strong pace and was a comfortable winner. That’s not to say the Mullins horse would not have won if the race had been run differently; he is obviously a classy horse and Ruby Walsh suggested that a step back in trip wouldn’t be a problem.

Baily Green ran up a seven-timer before going down by a length to the useful Twinlight at Fairyhouse in November, a race in which Oscars Well took a heavy fall. It was a game effort but the handicapper rates him 7lb inferior to Arvika Ligeonniere. He does have plenty of experience though and could capitalise on any mistakes by the more fancied horses.

Benefficient won the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle here last February over 2m2f when making all the running. He then disappointed when stepped up in trip on his next two runs. He was a good winner of a beginners’ chase at Down Royal over 2m4f in November but found 3m in a Grade 2 at Newbury just beyond him when runner-up to Harry Topper, though there were some good horses behind him.

If he decides to make the running it could be interesting as 2m4f looks to be his best trip and his stamina could cause a dilemma for Arvika Ligeonnaire’s pilot Paul Townend.

Dylan Ross ran a stinker last day behind Oscars Well and can’t be supported, but the latter has impressed since taking on the larger obstacles. He look comfortable on his debut at Punchestown but then had a crashing fall on his next appearance at the same venue. He showed no ill effects on his comeback at Navan a couple of weeks ago and could hardly have been more impressive.

The race could be a great spectacle as these classy novices jump down the back straight and it will be interesting to see how they negotiate the last three fences where many a novice has come to grief. The heart says Oscars Well but the head rules to make ARVIKA LIGEONNAIRE the selection.

About the author:

Declan Smyth

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