LANZAROTE, the winner of the 1974 Champion Hurdle, absolutely loved Kempton Park and after his sad death in the 1977 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Lanzarote Hurdle, now sponsored by 32Red (2.40pm), was born the following year.
Initially run over two miles, the distance was increased to 2m5f in 2007 due to the plethora of handicap hurdles run over the minimum trip at this time of year.
That was an excellent move, as it gives middle distance handicappers a chance to aim at a decent pot during what is a relatively quiet part of the season.
We’ve seen some decent horses land this prize in recent years, including subsequent Grade One-winning chasers Saphir Du Rheu and Tea For Two.
This year’s contest looks wide open with 16 runners set to line-up, which would be the biggest field since 2013. Barry Geraghty came home in front on Modus in JP McManus’ green and gold silks 12 months ago and there will be plenty hoping for a similar result with River Frost.
Alan King’s six-year-old was an impressive winner of the two-mile handicap hurdle on this card last year and he then followed up over this extended trip in February. Unbeaten at the Sunbury track, he has to be respected, particularly after running so well at Chepstow on his seasonal bow in October.
The concern is that he has to shoulder top weight and is almost a stone higher in the weights than his first Kempton victory last January.
At 5/1 with Ladbrokes, I’m prepared to leave him alone and instead will be backing Nicky Henderson’s DIESE DES BIEFFES at 6/1 with Coral.
He landed his first two starts over hurdles, before running really well behind If The Cap Fits here on Boxing Day. The drop back to two miles wasn’t ideal that day, so the extra five furlongs tomorrow should eke out some more improvement.
He got outpaced rounding the home turn, but stayed on impressively and the winner is just 8/1 with Ladbrokes for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Off a mark of 135, and with promising 5lb claimer Mitchell Bastyan booked for the ride, everything looks set for a massive run.
Those towards the head of the market have made hay in recent years – the last six winners have all been 7/1 or shorter.
I can see my selection going off nearer 7/2 and he can give Henderson a third win in the race.
There are a number of others with chances, including Diese Des Bieffes’ stablemate William Henry, who will be more at home going right-handed after his disappointing chasing debut at Cheltenham last month.
He’s another with lots of weight to carry, though, as is Bags Groove who is on a hat-trick, but has gone up 13lbs since winning at Aintree in October.
Final declarations for the 32Red Casino Chase (2.05pm) won’t be known until later this morning, but if he’s declared, WAITING PATIENTLY will be a strong fancy. Malcolm Jefferson’s son of Flemensfirth is unbeaten over fences and a year ago beat Politologue, who is 7/2 second favourite for the Champion Chase in March.
Waiting Patiently’s followers have had to do exactly that, as the seven year-old has only been seen once so far this season.
That was a comfortable success at Carlisle in November and there is a danger that connections may decide to skip tomorrow’s race for next week’s Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
However, this intermediate trip looks better for him than dropping back to the minimum, so I’d expect to see him at Kempton.
He can be backed at a best-priced 11/4. Gods Own has a big chance on these terms, although his best form tends to come in the spring, while the ground might not be soft enough for Smad Place.
Josses Hill isn’t the most consistent, so I’m happy to go with the younger horse who could easily land this before claiming a Grade One prize in the spring.
Waiting Patiently 2.05pm Kempton
DieseDesBieffes e/w 2.40pm Kempton