Asterion Forlonge: one of many big names in action on December 26
Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
The line-up on December 26 might look a little different due to the Covid-19 pandemic but we still have plenty of top-class racing to look forward to and, as usual, Kempton’s King George VI Chase card is the headline fixture.
However, there is plenty of quality racing away from the ITV cameras, with five more meetings scheduled. Here are four races not to be missed.
Racing Post Novice Chase (Grade 1) | 2m1f | 4yo+ | RTV/RTE2
This Grade 1 has been a rich form guide for the Arkle and Irish Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival and the Dublin Racing Festival respectively.
In 2015, Douvan announced himself as a top-class chaser with a monstrous performance before completing the Arkle sweep at Leopardstown and Prestbury Park in a perfect novice chase season.
Stablemate Footpad also notched the treble two seasons later, while last year’s victor Notebook failed at Cheltenham but scooped the Irish Arkle in January.
Superstars Min, Sizing Europe and Moscow Flyer also feature among the previous winners and leading trainer Willie Mullins is doubly represented in his bid for a seventh win in the contest.
His team is headed by recent Navan winner Blackbow, who finished fifth behind stablemate Relegate in the 2018 Champion Bumper and jumped well on his chase debut. Thurles scorer Franco De Port also holds sound claims.
Gordon Elliott is looking for his second race victory and trains likely favourite Felix Desjy, while Champion Hurdle third Darver Star adds some extra spice..
Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Chase (Grade 1) | 2m3½f | 4yo+ | RTV
As stated in the race’s new title, Faugheen brought the house down when romping to victory here last year and, while there will be no crowd this time, Limerick’s only Grade 1 of the season is set to be a cracker.
Despite the defection of Energumene and Monkfish, Willie Mullins has three of the five remaining runners with the high-class Asterion Forlonge heading a powerful team.
Unbeaten on Irish soil with his only defeat coming at the hands of Shishkin when fourth in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, Asterion Forlonge will look to maintain his unbeaten record over fences following a bloodless success on his seasonal reappearance.
His main danger could be the Gordon Elliott-trained Pencilfulloflead, who goes into the race under the radar but slammed the classy Latest Exhibition by seven lengths at Punchestown in November.
Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) | 2m | 3yo | RTV/RTE2
Another coveted prize at Leopardstown, this race has been won by 11-time Grade 1 winner Apple’s Jade, Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’Allen and the classy Bapaume since 2015.
Champion Hurdle dark horse Aspire Tower was successful last year and this year’s edition looks red-hot with four unbeaten runners boasting untapped potential.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Zanahiyr, who heads the market for the 2021 Triumph Hurdle, will likely be all the rage. Set to be ridden by Jack Kennedy, Zanahiyr quickened impressively to plunder a Grade 3 Fairyhouse contest last time and has to give away 3lb to his rivals as a result.
Runner-up that day, Saint Sam, will reoppose for Willie Mullins, the leading trainer in the race with four wins. He is also represented by French recruit Ha D’Or, who wears a first-time hood.
Betway Conditions Stakes | 6f | 3yo+ | Sky
Despite jumps action dominating the television coverage this time of year, there is an all-weather Flat card to savour at Wolverhampton that is headlined by this classy conditions race.
The ill-fated Kachy captured this contest in record time in 2018 before going on to win on All-Weather Championships Finals day and his owner, Dave Lowe, is set to be represented in this year’s renewal by the David Loughnane-trained Fizzy Feet.
Talented 2019 Gimcrack Stakes second Lord Of The Lodge has not been seen since the July Cup in the summer and is poised to make his return to the Tapeta after a wind operation.
The unbeaten Boosala is scheduled to make his all-weather debut having not been seen in action since winning at York in July and adds further intrigue to what should be a competitive contest.
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