Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

A feast of racing over Christmas

Much like that frightful Wizzard chorus, racing fans are surely united in their wish it could be Christmas every day.

Much like that frightful Wizzard chorus, racing fans are surely united in their wish it could be Christmas every day.

Such is the calibre of fare on offer over the festive period, it almost makes the inane rituals we have to sit through each year worthwhile.

This may be a time for giving, but lovers of racing should be guilt-free when devouring the veritable feast on Boxing Day.

Even a morning listening to family members complaining about the dearth of good telly on Christmas Day has to be worth it if one can steal a few hours in front of the box with the Channel 4 team at Kempton.

With the King George meeting now back where it belongs, this year takes on greater resonance with plenty of thoughts turning to the late Desert Orchid.

A memorial service will be held at around 2pm on the 27th to commemorate David Elsworth's galloping grey, four times a winner of the King George, while the inaugural running of the Grade Two Desert Orchid Chase should ensure his name will remain forever synonymous with Kempton.

It has to be hoped the Stan James King George VI Chase also does Dessie justice.

With a line-up featuring the brilliant Kauto Star, classy grey Monet's Garden and a host of other A1 chasers, this seems highly likely.

The Stan James Christmas Hurdle, won last year in great style by Feathard Lady, and the Feltham Novices' Chase again ably supplement the King George.

There is also good racing to be had at Wetherby on the same afternoon, where the Grade Three skybet.com Rowland Meyrick Chase will attract a useful field.

Over in Ireland, any Boxing Day hangovers will soon be blitzed with a tremendous card at Leopardstown, featuring the Durkan New Homes Novice Steeplechase - a race won in the past by such greats as Moscow Flyer, Danoli and Native Upmanship.

Twenty-four hours later at Chepstow, the BBC-televised Coral Welsh National takes top billing and promises to be another absorbing encounter judged by the ante-post betting, currently headed by Halcon Genelardais.

Last year's renewal yielded a one-two-three for the Paul Nicholls team when Cornish Rebel and Heros Collonges chased home L'Aventure.

Nicholls also won the 2004 renewal with Silver Birch and looks to have a strong hand again.

As well as the Desert Orchid Chase, Kempton's second day, which will be covered by the Beeb rather than Channel 4, features the Grade Two Stan James Wayward Lad Novices' Chase over two miles.

And while the skybet.com Castleford Chase at Wetherby on the same day is sadly no longer of Grade Two calibre, this now valuable handicap may still prove a handy pointer.

Leopardstown again dine at the top table, however, with day two of the Christmas Festival showcasing the Paddy Power Steeplechase and the Grade One Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Steeplechase.

The Irish venue really comes into its own on Thursday, however, with the running of the Lexus Chase, where Beef Or Salmon, bidding for a fourth victory, will clash with War Of Attrition and Robert Alner's The Listener.

Friday sees Newbury come under the spotlight with a classy card spearheaded by the Grade One Ballymore Properties Challow Novices' Hurdle.

The final day of the Leopardstown Festival includes the bewleyshotels.com December Festival Hurdle, won 12 months ago by Brave Inca - who is all set to bid for back-to-back victories.

There is also good racing to be had on Saturday with Haydock and Musselburgh screened live on Channel 4.

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