Mike Cattermole: Top Card
Top broadcaster Mike Cattermole looks ahead to racing's festive feast and back on a feast of a different sort at Ayr.
Cue Card is Mike's fancy for the King George VI Chase
KING GEORGE PROMISES SO MUCH!
We will miss Coneygree on Boxing Day, no question, but who would you rather have, Coneygree or Thistlecrack?
All right, both, in an ideal world to take on defending champion Cue Card, but the presence of Thistlecrack gives the 32red.com King George VI Chase some real sparkle.
Full marks to the Tizzard team for allowing their two superstars to take each other on, because this really is one heck of a Christmas present to look forward to!
Thistlecrack is a monster of a racehorse who has passed all three of his chasing tests so far, with aplomb, but he is taking a huge step up here and there will be no hiding place. We know that Josses Hill likes to go forward, Silviniaco Conti is also ridden forcefully and Cue Card is never far away so a true championship pace looks likely, even with a small field.
Thistlecrack could easily be up to it but his fencing is going to be tested like never before. The romantic in me wants to see him win, and win well, but having won seven times over fences at Grade One level, surely Cue Card is the one to be on, given that they are trading at around the same price.
The King George looked like eluding Cue Card after three unsuccessful attempts but, last season, he took things to another level and collared the ill-fated Vautour to make it fourth time lucky. Yes, he is rising 11, but I reckon there is one more King George in him as he looked back to his brilliant self at Haydock in the Betfair Chase.
Victory here and the dream of the £1m bonus remains intact until March.
I am a big fan of Josses Hill and am delighted that he has been supplemented as I had already hinted in this column that he would make his presence felt in the King George after his emphatic win in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
That was the best performance yet from Josses Hill over fences – he was far too good for Teafortwo and I can see no reason why Lizzie Kelly's mount, winner of the Kauto Star Chase here 12 months ago, can reverse the form (they had both had a run before the Peterborough).
Josses Hill has his own way of doing things, and the first few fences may be critical, but once warmed up at Huntingdon, his jumping looked really good and he finished the race off strongly. He has also won two chases at Kempton.
Two-time hero Silviniaco Conti is a personal favourite and an unsung hero but it may be that his best days are behind him. That said, I have never considered him a mudlark and the ground was really testing when he was well held behind Cue Card at Haydock.
"The King George looked like eluding Cue Card but last season, he took things to another level and collared the ill-fated Vautour. Yes, he is rising 11, but I reckon there is one more in him as he looked back to his brilliant self at Haydock."
They say that "Storm Barbara" is heading over for Christmas. That is a weather system and not my Mum, who is also a Barbara and is coming to us for the festivities!
It might mean that the Coral Welsh National is going to be run on pretty soft ground after all, and that will be music to the ears of trainer Kerry Lee whose mud-loving Mountainous is bidding to become the first three-time winner of the Chepstow showpiece. I can't quite see that happening, even though he reserves his best for this famously undulating course.
However, Kerry has another live one in Bishops Road who shaped well on his reappearance at Newcastle, although he does have a tendency to hit the odd fence.
Native River is a classy top-weight, having stayed on strongly to win the Hennessy for which he has a 4lb penalty in this early-closer and means he is 4lb better in than his new mark.
Carole's Destrier is therefore 4lb better off for the half-length he was beaten by the Tizzard-trained gelding at Newbury and is fancied to get his revenge given that Neil Mulholland's charge had not raced for seven months.
Sure, Native River is young and has potential to improve again but a proper stamina test brings out the best in Carole's Destrier, and at 10/1 with Sky Bet, he has a very sound each-way shout.
The other one that intrigues me is O'Faolains Boy who is very smart on his day and slammed Sausalito Sunrise by 15l at levels a year ago at Newbury and yet finds himself in receipt of 6lb from his old rival now.
However, he missed the Hennessy due to a setback and that is a little off-putting.
This of course will be the last big race covered by C4 Racing before the curtain comes down and I wish the team all the very best.
HAYDOCK LOST IT IN THE FOG
Clyne will go down in history as winning the handicap hurdle at Haydock that nobody could see. He won it off a mark of 140 and I note that the handicapper has actually assessed the race and given him a 3lb rise to 143!
What happened out there, in a murk so dense that even the cameras couldn't pick up even a silhouette all the way up the home straight, will remain a mystery. One wonders how any conclusions about the form can be drawn.
Of course it was a race that should never have taken place. It was the last race on the card, so the light was going anyway so why didn't someone stand up and say "no way"? You would never expect any jump jockey to do that of course but outside the weighing room, any common sense floating around seems to have disappeared as quickly as the horses did.
Can you imagine what might have happened if there had been a fall, a jockey had been hurt and a horse had got loose? It doesn't bear thinking about.
Yes, this was very embarrassing but it could have been even worse.
BACK UP AT AYR
I had not been to Ayr for a number of years but returned there on Monday to call the horses and I enjoyed my visit.
You can always be assured of a warm welcome when you go racing in south-west Scotland, whether from the racecourse team or the race-going public who are hugely enthusiastic.
Admittedly, a cold December afternoon of jumping is maybe not the best way to judge a racecourse and its facilities but, rather like Newcastle, the grandstand is looking a bit worse for wear these days and could do with a bit of an overhaul.
I also couldn't find a healthy bite to eat, although Ayr is by no means the only racecourse guilty of failing on that front. A plate of fresh pasta or similar? A bowl of home-made soup? It can't be that difficult, can it?
Anyway, having opted not to go for the pressroom sandwiches and proverbial chips, I gave into a cheeseburger – hey, I was hungry! – which was actually pretty good and using my £2 voucher in the racecard, only set me back £3.50. That's obviously my Scottish blood coming through there.
It was great to catch up with Lucinda Russell and Peter Scudamore, the Posh and Becks of Scottish racing! Cruelly denied the chance of bringing along the immensely promising Brindisi Breeze, who was killed in a freak accident four years ago, Lucinda and Scu could have a nice horse on their hands again in Big River, a son of Milan, who romped home in the handicap hurdle under Tom Scudamore.
Scu senior knows a good horse when he sees one and reckons that Big River is the best they have got at Arlary House. Small wonder then that he won so easily off 115. I will follow his progress keenly from now on.
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