Let the feast begin! I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas Day and enjoyed the festivities but now we can get down to some proper business.
Racing at this time of year has always been spectacular and dramatic and I don’t expect the new few days to be any different.
From Kempton on Tuesday to Cheltenham on January 1, the action will be spectacular, informative and full of stars, both equine and human.
I’ve picked out five to keep your eye on, whether you are venturing to a track or sat in your armchair, with a mince pie, watching us on ITV.
The King George VI Chase on Boxing Day is set to be a belter this year with plenty of story lines
Trainer Paul Nicholls bids to be King at Christmas for a remarkable 14th time with a win in the race
Hewick, trained by John Joseph Hanlon, pictured on the gallops ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, would be the fairy tale for the race
All hail the King
One race dominates and that is the King George VI Chase. It should be a belter, full of intrigue and good stories – six go to post and any of them could win. The tapes go up at 2.30pm, the third and final Grade One at Kempton, leaving time to digest it before the bulk of the football starts.
I’ll have half an eye on St Mary’s from 3pm, where I hope Southampton can make home advantage pay. Paul Nicholls will feel exactly the same, as he bids to be King at Christmas for a remarkable 14th time. This is what he describes as a “home fixture” for Bravemansgame, who is lethal at Kempton.
But he’ll need huge improvement to defend his title after two defeats this season. Allaho arrives from Ireland and will go off favourite. Arguably the most talented chaser in training, he could blow the race apart. Odds of 7/4 make little appeal, though, and his tendency to jump left worries me.
The fairytale would be Hewick, who cost £800 and whose globetrotting has pocketed near £500,000 in prize money. Don’t be shocked, either, if Shiskin – who refused to race at Ascot last month – sparkles. He’s unbeaten in four races at Kempton, winning them by an aggregate of 54 lengths.
I call him racing’s Carlos Tevez – brilliant but unpredictable. If he’s in a going mood, watch out…
Constitution Hill is Boxing Day’s star attraction in the Christmas Hurdle but the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices Chase (1.20) carries the intrigue. It’s full of potential stars and in Il Est Francais, who is trained by Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm, we could have the next Long Run over from France.
He looks freakishly good and the vibes are very strong but two good ones take him on, Hermes Allen and Giovinco. This is a proper contest.
The Mullins monopoly
There’s brilliant racing over in Ireland and Willie Mullins has more entries at Leopardstown over the next four days than most trainers have horses in their entire stable. He’ll win plenty of Grade Ones, though Gordon Elliott will try to stop him.
Daddy Long Legs is one Mullins runner you might not be familiar with but watch out for him in Wednesday’s Future Champions Novice Hurdle. Also, my Irish mole tells me Ile Atlantique is one to follow. He’s entered in a race at Navan on January 7. I’m assured he’s the real deal.
ITV will be based at Kempton on Wednesday but the highlight is the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow, due off at 2.50; whoever wins will need bags of stamina to get home and I wouldn’t put you off Nassalam, trained by Gary Moore, who was an impressive winner of the trial at the course earlier this month and is open to masses of improvement. The Moore stable is in excellent form.
Willie Mullins is set to have more runners at Leopardstown in the next four days than some trainers have in their stables
Gary Moore will have Nassalam running Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on Wednesday
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for Shaekem Up’Arry, owned by Harry Redknapp, who was the eye catcher in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury
New Year’s Day at Cheltenham is one of the best days of the entire Festive period and seems to get a bigger crowd every year. Shakem Up’Arry was the big eye-catcher in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury, where he was last off the bridle.
I hope he gets an entry over the shorter trip in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase (2.05) as he’s handicapped to win. I spoke to owner Harry Redknapp at Cheltenham’s Christmas Festival, who looked shaken by the football team he’s coaching in Wales for a new TV series.
He described them as the worst team in the country, but he had a glint is his eye when I asked about Shakem Up’Arry. With Stage Star also being targeted at the race by Paul Nicholls, 2024 could start with a bang. I hope you enjoy it all – and I send you my best wishes of the season.
Ed Chamberlin is an ambassador for SkyBet UK