Thank you Santa

Jump racing fans must have been especially good this year, because Santa certainly delivered a whole host of goodies. Christmas week is always a thrilling time for National Hunt lovers with terrific meetings at Kempton and Leopardstown, ably supported by Chepstow amongst others. The King George VI Chase is the main event of the week. It has been won by some of the greatest steeplechasers of all time; Arkle, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star are just a few equine heroes to capture the Christmas feature. This year’s race produced another thrilling finish. The Betfair Chase winner Cue Card was fancied to repeat his Haydock success, but in testing ground failed to last home. He forced the issue from the off and looked the winner at the second last fence. But Tizzard’s jumping star began to paddle and he was swamped by Silviniaco Conti. Paul Nicholls’ horse had been the only challenger capable of living with Cue Card. He is a strong stayer and the Cheltenham hill in March is certain to suit. Cue Card is more likely to defend his Ryanair crown, although a crack at the Gold Cup would not be out of the question on a sounder surface. The Christmas Hurdle is always a quality supporting race to the King George. This year’s renewal became a thrilling duel between My Tent Or Yours and The New One. The Kempton track may have suited Nicky Henderson’s horse, but there is no doubting that he had to show battling qualities few thought he had. An error at the last didn’t help The New One and it’s possible that he could turn the form around come March. For me, the only certainty is that they remain very closely matched. I sit on the fence at this stage. Classy seasonal treats continued to arrive, when at Leopardstown Bobs Worth won a terrific Lexus Chase. Another high class field had been assembled and it was Nicky Henderson’s Gold Cup winner that showed his true form, staying on strongly to beat First Lieutenant. Sir Des Champs was back in fourth, but don’t be surprised to see him much closer at Cheltenham, especially if the ground comes up good to soft or better. I remain convinced that Willie Mullins chaser can win the Gold Cup if he gets suitable ground conditions. Last year’s Lexus Chase winner was Tidal Bay. This Christmas he travelled to Wales for the Welsh National at Chepstow. Incredibly, the 12-year-old almost carried top-weight to victory. Heavy ground ensured that the marathon event was its usual test of endurance. The suitably named Mountainous gave an immense performance when running the race of his life to hold off another Paul Nicholl’s runner in Hawkes Point. But of course the story of Christmas, is of people being drawn to a shining star. And this Christmas none shone brighter than the Champion hurdler Hurricane Fly. This is likely to be his toughest season as new challengers arrive from both sides of the Irish Sea. At Leopardstown both Our Conor and Jezki, found the ‘Champ’ in irresistible form. So Christmas had delivered it’s usual packages of pleasure. And with all the crackers pulled, we look forward to 2014, full of excitement and heightened anticipation. Let’s hope Sprinter Sacre has a thrilling part to play. That would be a Christmas gift worth waiting for. Thank you Santa.