It’s ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ as Andy Williams once sung and the jump racing continues thick and fast in the build-up to Christmas on Racing TV this weekend.
Saturday’s action features an early Christmas cracker at Sandown Park with a number of Britain and Ireland’s top-rated chasers facing off in the Grade One Tingle Creek, whilst the Grand National fences are in use at Aintree for the Becher Chase and the Grand Sefton.
Similarly, a host of established Grade One performers look set to face-off in Sunday’s John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown. We have taken a look at five horses to follow this weekend.
Horse: Presenting Percy
Trainer: Pat Kelly
Race: John Durkan Memorial Chase (1.50pm, Punchestown on Sunday)
A real fan favourite, Presenting Percy endured an interrupted campaign last term which did not see the eight-year-old run until January when landing the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park.
Favourite for the Gold Cup in March, a litany of mistakes put paid to his chances and he finished the race lame.
However, connections seem delighted with his preparation for this event and it is hard to forget his seven-length romp in the 2018 RSA Chase at Cheltenham in which he slammed a field including Monalee, Elegant Escape, Black Corton plus subsequent Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo!
This looks a hot renewal of the John Durkan, but it would be folly to write off Presenting Percy, who retains untapped potential for the season ahead.
Horse: Native River
Trainer: Colin Tizzard
Race: Virgin Bet Price Boosts Many Clouds Chase (2.40pm, Aintree on Saturday)
The 2018 Gold Cup hero returns to action at Aintree on Saturday! The nine-year-old has failed to win in three starts since his success in jump racing’s blue riband event, but he finished a fine third in last year’s King Goerge on a track which plainly does not suit him, before finishing fourth in this year’s Gold Cup.
Connections reported earlier this term that they would take a more patient approach with him this term and racing fans could be in for a belter of a contest as he takes on 2018 Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite, who is also looking to return to form.
Colin Tizzard’s charge is a course and distance winner, having plundered the Mildmay Novices’ Chase back in 2016 and soft conditions would suit the son of Indian River.
This race will tell connections plenty about which race they target over Christmas with a repeat bid in the Welsh Grand National being muted.
Horse: Step Back
Trainer: Mark Bradstock
Race: Betfair London National Handicap Chase (3.35pm, Sandown on Saturday)
A horse who clearly has latent ability, epitomised by his facile 13-length win in the bet365 Gold Cup over course and distance in 2018.
Quietly fancied for last year’s Grand National, he faded tamely having jumped out to his right on multiple occasions before returning to Sandown later that month to finish a cracking third when trying to defend his bet365 Gold Cup crown.
Clearly fragile, the son of Indian River has a penchant for Sandown and whilst he might just need this on his first run of the season, he is a horse to definitely keep on the right side of this season.
The Bradstock’s, who have enjoyed great success with Carruthers and Coneygree, have a knack for getting the best out of their small team. With that in mind, a handicap mark of 144 might just underestimate him and he could land another big-pot along the way this term.
Horse: Mulcahys Hill
Trainer: Warren Greatrex
Race: Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase (1.30pm, Aintree on Saturday)
General Odds: 7-1
Confirmed as an intended runner by Warren Greatrex this week, Mulcahys Hill retains an attractive profile which suggests he may be suited by the Grand National fences.
A short-head second in the 2017 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury, his handler suggested that race left its mark on him for the rest of the season, but he looked a rejuvenated horse on his first start at Cheltenham in October.
The seven-year-old got the better of Wholestone, who has won since over fences, on that occasion and he jumped with aplomb throughout the contest. The Becher has been the plan ever since and, despite just five starts over fences, he has the size and scope to make his presence felt in Saturday’s contest.
His jumping is a major asset and if taking to the unique test which these fences offer, he looks a major player, given his stamina-laden credentials for such a task.
Trainer: Alan King
Race: Play Casino At Virgin Bet Novices’ Hurdle (11.30am Aintree on Saturday)
Regarded by his trainer, Alan King, as one of his best novice hurdlers, the son of Kayf Tara failed to win in three starts in bumpers, but on his final start in that sphere, he chased home the exciting Chantry House, trained by Nicky Henderson.
Edwardstone’s first run over hurdles came in a hot-looking event at Wincanton which he duly won with an exemplary display of jumping. The five-year-old displayed a potent turn of foot to defeat the well-touted Fiddlerontheroof and it is interesting to see how high he can rank in the novice hurdling division this term.
King’s charge will have to shoulder a penalty at Aintree or Exeter this weekend, but he is certainly one to keep an eye on through the winter.
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