This looks a very good renewal of this race, with a lot of strength in depth, and Royal Vacation undoubtedly has a lot to find on form. Frodon probably sets the standard in here after his victory against seasoned handicappers in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last time and, as a 4yo, he also gets 7lb from all his rivals. If he stays this longer trip, he is probably the one to beat. But there are loads of progressive and unexposed horses against him in here – the likes of Might Bite, Present Man and Minella Daddy – but Anibale Fly of Tony Martin’s looks another that we have all to fear. Like Frodon, he is an unknown at this trip but he has been very impressive in Ireland in his two chase starts – he was a very good hurdler too – and his second to Coney Island over 2m4f in the Grade 1 Drinmore at Fairyhouse last time marks him down as a serious prospect in this race if he stays. We know my fellow stays, having won over the trip in heavy ground for me at Lingfield last month. I wasn’t on board when he faced a stiff task against Politilogue over 2m5f at Ascot last time, but he appeared to run very well there. He tried to match strides with the impressive winner in the first half of the race, then paid for it, but he was staying on well again in the straight and wasn’t beaten far into third. He probably has to improve a stone or more to beat some of these, but this is only his fifth chase start, he is improving and the step back up in trip will suit him, and he wouldn’t mind any more rain either. He has an each-way shot at what will be a big price.
3.15pm Kempton – 32Red King George
If Cue Card runs up to his best and Thistlecrack still beats us in the 32Red King George on Boxing Day, I will never have ridden against, or seen, a better horse. I genuinely believe that.
And that includes the likes of Kauto Star and Denman, who I know all too well from my Imperial Commander days.
Okay, Thistlecrack may not have to run to the spell-binding level of form that Kauto Star did when winning one or two of his King Georges – though he may have to – but if Colin’s horse can come out best given his inexperience he will have to be one of the best we have seen in a long while.
Cue Card has an official mark 176 but I am sure his best performances can be rated higher and nearer 180, so it will be one hell of a feat from Thistlecrack if he can beat us if we are on our A-game.
You can’t fail to have been impressed by Thistlecrack in his three chase starts.
Yes, they may have been in novice chases and in races he was expected to win, but I thought he was faultless at Newbury last time. And he was such a good – and at times frightening and effortlessly good – staying hurdler last season then you have to give him the utmost respect.
One thing is for sure, and that is his presence in the race has totally changed the nature of the contest. It would have been great for Coneygree’s connections to see him in here, but Thistlecrack elevates the race even further because he brings a dangerous, and unknown, element to the race.
But this is a totally different kettle of fish to what Thistlecrack has ever faced before. Cue Card is easily the best horse he will have lined up against in his career – and by some distance, too.
As I said earlier, I think Cue Card has put in a number of top-class performances that make him a 180 horse – in the Betfair Chase last time, and when beating Vautour in this race last season – and for Thistlecrack to beat him in that kind of form would be something extraordinary.
But you have to respect all the opposition – Josses Hill is improving if unproven at the trip, Tea For Two won the novice chase on this card last season, and Silviniaco Conti is a dual winner of the race – and the pace angle of the race is interesting, too.
Josses Hill’s jumping looks to have got better with experience and by going from the front, but I don’t think Siliviniaco Conti will be hanging around either, and Thistlecrack is a stayer so I would have thought that he would be ridden forward, too.
So I think it will be a truly-run race for all that there are only five runners, and that will suit my horse.
Some people thought that he didn’t jump as well as he could at Haydock last time, but that was by design and not accident.
He was always going so well at Haydock that my only consideration was getting from A to B without taking any undue chances. So I flddled when I needed to. There was no need to go for a big one, but it is always there if I want it.
Racing can be a great leveller and if we are beaten then so be it. But I will be going out there on Boxing Day thinking I am on the best horse and not expecting defeat.
I can’t wait.
To check the odds and bet on the big races visit 32Red here – we offer price boosts on every UK and Irish racing event, as well as enhanced multiples and jockey specials.