Last year’s winner Cue Card was always set to be part of this particular Christmas story, but it came as a surprise to many that he has been joined in the Grade One contest by stablemate THISTLECRACK.
Cue Card bounced back to form at Haydock last month when routing former Gold Cup winner Coneygree amongst others in the Betfair Chase.
He looked back to somewhere near his best that day, but will need to be to beat his upwardly mobile stablemate Thistlecrack.
Being a novice, last year’s World Hurdle winner had a potentially far easier assignment on the same card in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, but connections have opted to take their chance in the feature.
Unbeaten in all three starts over fences to date, Thistlecrack has looked every bit a seasoned chaser and has oozed star quality along the way.
It’s easy to throw superlatives around in this game, but the eight-year-old seems to have an engine unlike any other.
In all my years of going to the Cheltenham Festival, I have never seen a horse tank his way down to the final flight like he did in last season’s Word Hurdle. He is, quite simply, an extraordinary talent.
Bookmakers Betway were one of the first firms to make Thistlecrack favourite at 5/4, and I’m definitely in that camp too.
In fact, I’m also keen to take some of the 6/1 available about him landing the King George/Cheltenham Gold Cup double.
If he wins as well as I think he might on Monday, you’ll be scrabbling around for a fraction of that price.
Elsewhere on Kempton’s card, Jenkins should be too good for his opposition in the opener but won’t be much of a price. Instead, look out for the Gary Mooretrained BARON ALCO if he takes his chance in the novices’ handicap chase (1.30pm).
He’s bound to be given his usual aggressive front-running ride and don’t forget that he won at this meeting 12 months ago.
The 32Red Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (2.05pm) obviously has a far more wideopen feel now that there is no Thistlecrack.
I was really taken by the way that AMORE ALATO jumped on his seasonal reappearance at Sandown and he will take plenty of catching if in the same mood.
Finally, Chepstow stages the Coral Welsh Grand National (2.40pm) on Tuesday and all eyes are on the weather to see how much rain we are going to get.
A horse that certainly wouldn’t mind a few showers is Evan Williams’ FIREBIRD FLYER,who loves it when the mud is flying and stays a lot further than this too.
He won this year’s Midlands Grand National, made a pleasing seasonal reappearance at Haydock last month, and looks too big at 16/1 with the sponsors.
My eyes are also drawn to the dangerously well-handicapped UNIONISTE, who is thrown-in on old form.
It’s hard to believe that Paul Nicholls’ son of Dom Alco is still only an eight year-old and he’s another who would be a really strong fancy if the heavens open. He looks massive at 20/1 each-way with Betway.
Baron Alco e/w 1.30pmKempton (Mon)
Amore Alato e/w 2.05pmKempton (Mon)
Thistlecrack 3.15pm Kempton (Mon)
Firebird Flyer e/w 2.40pmChepstow (Tue)
Unioniste e/w 2.40pmChepstow (Tue)