4 races you simply cannot afford to miss this St Stephen's Day

Racing fans are spoiled for choice as the festive cards get underway at Leopardstown and Kempton.

Can Faugheen make it back-to-back Christmas Hurdles at Kempton?
Can Faugheen make it back-to-back Christmas Hurdles at Kempton?
Image: EMPICS Sport

Kempton, 2pm – Kauto Star Novices’ Chase

A mouthwatering 90 minutes of St Stephen’s Day racing kicks off with the first part of Kempton’s Grade 1 triple-header.

While the field might not boast the same star appeal as later races on the card, you can be sure that you’ll be hearing about a handful of these horses again between now and Cheltenham.

Colin Tizzard’s Native River and Nick Williams’ Tea for Two are likely to go off at the head of the market and, on recent form, it is the former who looks to have the slight edge.

Kempton, 2.35pm – Christmas Hurdle

If you don’t like watching Faugheen run, we’re pretty sure you don’t like horse racing.

After starting his career with a perfect 10 straight wins — including this race and the Champion Hurdles at both Cheltenham and Punchestown — Willie Mullins’ superstar suffered a rather unexpected reverse when well beaten by stablemate Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana.

There’s nothing of Faugheen’s quality in the Christmas Hurdle field, although draw a line through his disappointing Cheltenham run and The New One still deserves serious respect. Old Guard and Hargam have already met this season, with the former taking the International Hurdle a fortnight ago.

Leopardstown, 2.55pm – Racing Post Novice Chase

Once the Christmas Hurdle is in the books, it’s straight back over to Leopardstown for the feature race on day one.

It’s a small field with only four runners going to post for the Racing Post Novice Chase but everyone at the Dublin track will want to catch a glimpse of Douvan.

The newest machine out of the Willie Mullins’ yard destroyed all novice company over hurdles last season and now turns his attention to bigger obstacles with a tilt at the Arkle in March his most likely route.

Sizing John and Ttebbob are both horses on the up but expect Douvan to go off a very short-priced favourite.

Kempton, 3.10pm – William Hill King George VI Chase

As always on St Stephen’s Day, the pick of the day’s racing is at Kempton where a gloriously deep field lines up for the King George. Maybe throw in the absent Djakadam and Don Poli, and this is as close as you’re likely to get to a Gold Cup dress rehearsal.

In Don Cossack and Vautour, Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins saddle the leading two contenders in the betting but the home team, led by Betfair winner Cue Card, Hennessy winner Smad Place and the hat-trick chasing Silviniaco Conti are no shrinking violets.

We’re practically guaranteed a Christmas cracker, no matter how the race unfolds.

N.B. This piece has been updated after racing in Limerick for today was cancelled due to bad weather.

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Niall Kelly

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