Ed Chamberlin: Ready to Roc!
Ed Chamberlin looks forward to ITV's opening broadcast and picks out five horses to follow over the festive period.
Vyta Du Roc: Could go well in the Welsh National
Not long to go now before ITV Racing broadcast for the first time at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
I'm currently feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves but one thing for sure, after months of speculation, debate and preparation, I can't wait to get cracking. It seems like an age since my last appearance on camera at Old Trafford after the bomb scare in May.
I'm particularly looking forward to working with the fantastic ITV team behind and in front of the camera. Richard Willoughby and Paul Cooper head up a terrific production team, while the likes of Oli Bell, Matt Chapman, Richard Hoiles, Alice Plunkett, Sir AP, Luke Harvey, Mick Fitzgerald, Lucy Verasamy and Victoria Pendleton make up a terrific on-air team for our first day.
I'm often asked what my main aim for the coverage is. I would love it most if I met someone after January 2nd who said they'd seen our promo in December and given racing a go for the first time – and enjoyed it. That would be hugely satisfying.
Between now and our debut with ITV there's a stack of sensational racing in Britain and Ireland. Leopardstown's Christmas meeting seems to go a bit under radar in this country yet hosts some of the best racing of the entire year and is guaranteed to throw up a number of Cheltenham Festival winners.
However, the Christmas highlight has to be the big clash between Cue Card and Thistlecrack in the King George. It's the kind of match-up and head to head that racing thrives on and gets the sport on the front and back pages of newspapers.
It will split many a household over the dinner table at Christmas and get people talking about horse racing. Wonderful. Full marks to connections for making it happen.
I can't quite believe I'm going to go against an eight-time Grade One winner and horse I love to side with a novice but I just think Thistlecrack is a freak. Something very, very special. He's a phenomenal stayer with a load of speed. A potent combination.
Here are five other horses that could help pay for the turkey…..
Vyta Du Roc (Welsh Grand National 27 Dec)
Made the most of his bottomless reserves of stamina to win the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot last season, which was a performance all about good jumping and a will to win. He has been unable to reach those levels since but he's had excuses and his staying on sixth in the Hennessy at Newbury last month should have put him spot on for this.
This is always a competitive race and it will be tough to turn round the Hennessy form with the front two but I always like to back a horse that races fairly prominently in a Welsh National as horses rarely come from far back. Plus a horse that jumps economically rather than exuberantly in the stamina sapping conditions. Vyta fits the bill perfectly.
Groovejet (Wetherby, 26 Dec)
The handicapper has gauged her ability around the 115-mark after chasing home Warren Greatrex's classy mare, La Bague Au Roi, on her two hurdle starts to date, including a not-beaten-far third at Wetherby (fourth has since won well). I'm thinking connections will be delighted with that mark and I'm not surprised they have opted to go handicapping sooner rather than later. Some people will be put off by her lack of experience over obstacles but that's nonsense when you think she's been going a good lick against a Cheltenham-bound mare. A talented mare herself on the Flat, rated 100 at her peak, Groovejet went close off 93 on her most recent start on the level at Newmarket in October, and her turn of foot is likely to prove deadly in this sort of grade. The forecast good to soft might be as testing as she wants it, so just keep an eye on the whether with this one.
Turn Over Sivola (Leopardstown, 27 Dec)
Slipping handicap mark tells you he isn't the horse he once was for Alan King a couple of years ago, when he was running well over fences with a mark nudging the 140s. Bought cheaply in August by Gordon Elliott, he is yet to trouble the first half-dozen for new connections in a couple of races. However, his mark is dangerously low and I just think he is too good a horse not to be hitting top form sooner rather than later off his current rating. He's always been a bridle merchant so probably best to approach this with an each-way punt.
Might Bite (Kempton 26 Dec)
The Grade One Kauto Star Novices' Chase is usually a right grind in the mud but with conditions not looking too bad at Kempton, this could be a race set up for something with gears and in Nicky Henderson's Might Bite, punters will have the right type of horse on their side. Yet to rove his stamina beyond 2m5f he has shaped like 3m is going to play to his strengths and it is worth noting his half-brother, the top-class Beat That, thrived when upped in trip. He made novicey mistakes on his chasing debut at Ffos Las last month, when he was in need of a run, and put the record straight with a resounding win at Doncaster (2m3f, good) a few weeks ago. I accept this is a big rise in grade, but it's a far from vintage renewal and I've always thought this strapping seven-year-old was a Graded-class chaser in waiting.
Donjuan Triumphant (Wolverhampton, 26 Dec)
I don't mind a tickle on the all-weather during the dark winter months and although we have a feast of jumping action over the holiday period, I have Richard Fahey's three-year-old marked down in my notebook as a surefire future winner after his second at Chelmsford last week, when he was caught close home after racing too keenly on a muddling pace. The drop back to 6f is the angle in with him, as the slower pace over 7f causes him to race with the choke out and it's been a while since race conditions have played to strengths. Chances are, Fahey will look at the line-up and see his horse wouldn't have the natural pace to lead specialist sprinters and a hold up ride, off a strong early gallop, will bring about a return to top form.
All that's left for me to say is Happy Christmas and I hope to see you on New Year's Day at 1pm on ITV1!
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