Festive Fillies and Holiday Hurdling: Your Guide to All the Key Races This Christmas

Christmas Horse RacingYou know what: let’s all say no deal to Brexit, to Theresa May and to the politicians who continue to run this country in shambolic fashion.

Instead, let’s enjoy ourselves this Christmas. Enjoy the company of friends and family, overindulge if you fancy it, and just remember that there are more important things in life than political annihilation that, frankly, we can do very little about.

And if you enjoy a flutter, then remember to kick granny out of your favourite chair to enjoy what is a sublime time of year for first-class racing.

There’s a packed card once again at the tail-end of 2018, so why don’t we take a look at a trio of the best renewals and see if we can spot a winner or two to usher in the new year!

Long Walk Hurdle (December 22)

If you’re looking for a pre-Christmas showdown then the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot is a cracking option on Saturday.

It’s a Grade 1 affair that has acted as a really interesting waypoint for the months to come, too. Five Long Walk winners have gone on to taste success at the Cheltenham Festival in the World Hurdle, including the mighty Thistlecrack.

Long Walk Hurdle Odds

Another intriguing marker is for January’s Cleeve Hurdle, also at Cheltenham, which was won twice by three-time Long Walk champion Reve Di Sivola.

The reigning champion, Sam Spinner, is back to defend his title. That was the six-year-old’s last victory, and a run of poor form has been enough to persuade punters that the value lies elsewhere.

Perhaps that is Unowhatimeanharry, the 2016 winner of this race who won a competitive heat of the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November.

Call Me Lord is something of a surprise favourite with the bookies. Yet to run this winter, he has never run beyond 21f and has a solid, if rather unspectacular, CV so far. Only one five-year-old has won this renewal in the past decade too, so you might be better served hanging onto your cash if you’re a punters that likes to back the favourite.

King George VI Chase (December 26)

King George VI Chase OddsThere’s a feast of racing on Boxing Day, so if you have a date with the sofa in mind to help shake off the turkey hangover, you’re in luck.

The undoubted highlight is the King George VI Chase, a leading Grade 1 affair that has delivered success for some of the finest thoroughbreds in history. It is second only to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in terms of prestige.

Desert Orchid, One Man, Best Mate, Kauto Star and Long Run all have their names on the trophy, and it really is a renewal that identifies the best chaser in the business.

Might Bite, the defending champion and bookmakers favourite, will be looking to shake off a below-par performance in November’s Betfair Chase, where he finished dead last. The Nicky Henderson’s charge would love some softer conditions here, and should the rain fall on Kempton Park he of course has a lively chance.

But what about Bristol De Mai? Written off by some as a one-trick pony having won the 2017 Betfair Chase on heavy ground, he doubled up in November in much faster conditions. One career run at Kempton – which yielded a sixth in this renewal 12 months ago – might be enough to deter many.

The ante-post market has a really interesting horse, Waiting Patiently, down as an 11/2 second favourite.

Younger horses don’t tend to get the job done in the King George, but Ruth Jefferson’s seven-year-old has shown glimpses of a major winner in waiting.

Unbeaten in his last seven starts, he won in impressive fashion at Kempton back in January, and followed up with a sublime showing in the Ascot Chase in February, winning by three lengths from a field which contained the likes of Cue Card.

Add into the mix the likes of Politologue, Thistlecrack and Native River, potentially, and Boxing Day will see some of the best chasers in the world duke it out for the spoils.

The Christmas Hurdle (December 28)

Christmas Hurdle OddsLeopardstown hosts its own Christmas Festival as the new year approaches, and this is another exceptional meeting for punters to enjoy.

You can see Samcro continue his development as a fine chaser in the making on the Saturday, but we’re particularly interested in the Christmas Hurdle on December 28.

Not to be confused with the race of the same name at Kempton on Boxing Day, the Irish version has delivered some fine winners of late, including Vroum Vroum Mag and defending champion Apple’s Jade; both of whom went to on to enjoy success at the Cheltenham Festival.

The latter is installed as the odds-on favourite, and why not: she has returned in fine style this winter, beating Christmas Hurdle contender Supasundae by 20 lengths in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle earlier in December.

Competition may just come from Benie Des Dieux, who twice impressively dealt with Apple’s Jade in comprehensive fashion in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham followed by the Annie Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.