John Duggan's Christmas Racing Preview

What to look out for as we mark your card...

BY John Duggan 23:32 Saturday 23 December 2017, 23:32 23 Dec 2017

In 1991, my late father won the Tote Jackpot at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day, on his own. It paid a five figure sum, but it was at the low end of the five figure scale. That said, it was 26 years ago, so the punts went a long way. I was a young lad back then, and what is my local track has always held a fascination, especially when one is reared on such a tale. 

The Leopardstown Christmas National Hunt Racing Festival is a very enjoyable way to spend your holiday time, as a purist, a punter or a purveyor of pints. It's easy to get to, with the M50 and Luas in close proximity. 7 Grade 1 races guarantee quality, with 28 races over 4 days answering the quantity question. For those not based in Dublin, Limerick also provides a 4 day feast for jumps fans. 

The ground will be much better at Leopardstown than it usually is during this time of year following a mild spell. Yielding ground will mean it's between good and soft, so there will be no excuses for those horses taking their chances. Don't rule out horses in the form book which prefer better ground that is usually only underfoot in the spring. 

The St Stephen's Day card on December 26th at Leopardstown can be tricky, and looking through it today, there are two maiden hurdles, a handicap hurdle and a handicap chase, a bumper, a juvenile hurdle and the feature, the Racing Post Novice Chase. It is traditionally a difficult card for betting as there is a lot of guesswork involved. 'Footpad' versus 'Death Duty' will be the main focus in the big one at 2.20. 'Footpad' was second in an Irish Champion Hurdle and jumped electrically in his debut over fences at Navan. When horses are going the route of the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham next year, I examine how good they were over hurdles and how good they can jump. I would give 'Footpad' the edge over the exciting 'Death Duty', who may prefer a longer trip. Elsewhere on the card, I found it interesting that rising star Jack Kennedy is riding for Mouse Morris in the opening two races, while I would be on the right side of anything Mark Walsh rides in the colours of owner JP McManus. Cork trainer Robert Tyner has declared 'Blast of Koeman' for the penultimate race, and any horse he sends to the capital must be respected. 

Over at Kempton, the King George VI Chase is the main attraction at 3.05 on the same day, and this is a fascinating, above average renewal over the 3 miles.

'Might Bite' is the favourite and deservedly so, following his Novice Chase wins at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals earlier this year. He had the Kempton Novice race over this course and distance at his mercy one year ago before falling at the last. He is quirky, but has the ability to jump and gallop his rivals into submission. A rival that could also claim that tag is 'Bristol De Mai', a 57 length victor at Haydock last time out on heavy ground. It was a breathtaking performance, but I am not sure if he can transfer such dominance to Kempton and I have always had a doubt in my mind about his jumping. 'Thistlecrack' is an unknown quantity - on a reading of the form of his win in this race last year he would be favourite, but his return from injury in a hurdle race at Newbury was uninspiring. He could bounce back, but is not a betting proposition. 2 mile specialist 'Fox Norton' may be the biggest danger to 'Might Bite' - if he lasts the distance. It's the big if, but 'Sizing John', 'Kauto Star', 'Best Mate' and 'One Man' are horses that proved they could be effective over both 2 and 3 miles. 'Fox Norton' wasn't stopping when winning the 2 and a half mile Melling Chase at Aintree in April and he could be the each way selection to trouble 'Might Bite' as he will be able to live with the favourite's speed in the early stages of the contest. 

On December 27th, it's Paddy Power day at Leopardstown, with declarations yet to be finalised. 'Min' is likely to win the Rewards Club Chase over 2 miles at 1.15 based on his solid return at Gowran Park which showed he retained the ability of his Novice campaign. The only horse to beat 'Min' in Ireland or the UK is the lightning 'Altior'. On a line through 'Ordinary World', 'Min' will take all the beating. I doubt if 'Un De Sceaux' will turn up here, but if he does, it would be a fascinating contest between the Willie Mullins stablemates. It's hard to assess the race when we don't know the final declarations. 

'Mengli Khan' is currently odds on for the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at 1.50, but I wouldn't be backing him at that price if he runs. The Gordon Elliott inmate has filled out physically and is much more forward now, but I felt the Royal Bond Hurdle at Fairyhouse was a strange race, and Willie Mullins saddles a couple of potential runners in 'Real Steel' and 'Sharjah' that could be anything. 

The 3 mile Paddy Power Handicap Chase at 3.00 is a brilliant betting race, with up to 30 runners facing the starter. Mullins is represented by the ante post favourite in 'Polidam', who was decent in France and could be well in at the weights. There is support in the market for 'Squouateur', but he has been expensive to follow in the past. Three horses which interest me right now at the prices are former Cheltenham Festival winner 'Mall Dini', the Edward O'Grady trained 'The West's Awake', an improver that may like this extra distance, and 'Bonny Kate', available at around 25/1. The ground may not be soft enough for her, but she ran very well at Navan in the Troytown Chase. The forecast going is leaning me towards 'Mall Dini' at this early stage. 

Also on December 27th is the Welsh National at Chepstow, a 3 mile 5 furlong marathon at 2.50, which favours stamina laden older horses. I cannot have 'Beware the Bear' as his jumping at Newcastle wasn't good enough. The Philip Hobbs trained 'Rock the Casbah' is rock solid as he needs cut in the ground and he will stay. He has won 3 times over fences at Chepstow. 'Ask the Weatherman' is a lightly raced Hunter Chaser that could be suited by the demands of this race. 'Folsom Blue' had good form in patches with Mouse Morris before moving to Gordon Elliott's yard, and 'Final Nudge' is a horse that I spotted. He fell when in contention in the Midlands National earlier this year, was a good second Wincanton recently and this has been the aim. 

On December 28th, we may see triple Gold Cup winner 'Sizing John' appear in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase. Jessica Harrington's stable star looks even better this year and will be hard to beat this season. I wonder if the race is coming too soon after the John Durkan Chase win at Punchestown, but connections know best and the declarations will confirm his well being. It will take a lot for the talented if unpredictable 'Yorkhill' to win first time out, and he may need shorter than the 3 miles they are tackling here. The Noel Meade trained 'Road to Respect' is improving and the ground may help him, and another Meade horse, 'Disko', is one I am keeping on the right side of. Grey 'Disko' has a great attitude and jumps for fun. His form with 'Our Duke' from last season hasn't worked out too badly. If 'Sizing John' doesn't run, I might back 'Disko' in this.   

'Faugheen' will win the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29th, but will be prohibitive in the market. That's irrelevant anyway - sit back and enjoy a great equine specimen. Also on that day, if 'Monalee' turns up in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase over 3 miles, he could be worth an investment. 'Monalee' finished second at the Cheltenham Festival last March in a hurdle race over 3 miles, and his Waterford trainer Henry De Bromhead knows the time of day when it comes to bringing horses to another level over fences.  

Horses to follow:  

Monalee - Trained by Henry De Bromhead - December 29th - 1.55 Leopardstown (Provisionally) 

Someday - Trained by Jessica Harrington - Race at Leopardstown TBD 

Fox Norton - Trained by Colin Tizzard - Each way in the King George Chase - December 26th - 3.05 Kempton 

Final Nudge - Trained by David Dennis - Each way in the Welsh National - December 27th - 2.50 Chepstow  

Mall Dini - Trained by Patrick Kelly - Each way in the Paddy Power Chase - December 27th - 3.00 Leopardstown 

Some other tips for the races: 

Pace yourself, and if you like a responsible tipple, would you be drunk at midday? Probably not, so why would you burn through your hard earned money like a high roller in Las Vegas? Don't spoil your enjoyment by looking for a quick fix. Making money at the races is not easy. 

You don't have to bet. Of course you may wish to in every race as a recreation over Christmas for small stakes, and that's fine, but the bookmaker has to take the bet. Nobody is forcing you to bet. You can enjoy the drama of a race without having to wager on it. 

Backing 1 horse a day and making a profit over the week is far better than wading in without thinking and backing a load of losers. 

An even money shot could be fantastic value; a 10 to 1 shot could be terrible value - it all depends on probability of the outcome occurring, based on the framing of the odds and your informed opinion of the event. Otherwise, ask a tipster. 

If you ever leave the racecourse or bookies in a bad mood because you have lost more than you can afford - in other words if this is not for you - then look in the mirror and say that it's perfectly fine to fail. You can and will succeed in other areas of your life if you are a poor gambler. If it's fun and you are happy to lose a fixed amount, then great, but it's not for everyone.

Follow @johnduggansport on Twitter. 

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