2019 Kempton Christmas Hurdle tips – Henderson’s 7/4 chance can strike Grade One victory
Brian Healy takes a runner-by-runner look at the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
An excellent renewal of the Grade One Christmas Hurdle goes to post on Kempton’s Boxing Day racecard, and the two-mile contest could through up some significant pointers towards the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival come March 2020.
Boasting a first prize of almost £75,000 to the winner, a field of ten have stood their ground for the Festive cracker, and the action will unfold live on ITV Racing as part of their Boxing Day coverage of the best of the action around the country on a frantic afternoon of UK and Irish horse racing action.
Nicky Henderson has won this race eight times, including the last two renewals, and the Seven Barrows maestro fields a very strong entry for the race which is headed up by 2018 champion Verdana Blue (9/2, Unibet) who returns in a bid to defend her crown.
One of only two mares in the field, the Getaway mare won her first two starts of the season over timber last term which included a defeat of Old Guard over course and distance prior to following up at Wincanton in the Elite Hurdle.
From there, she finished a creditable fourth behind Nietzsche in the Greatwood Hurdle, and she returned from a run on the all-weather to spring a shock in this race when downing stablemate and then-reigning Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’air.
She continued to run well following that win, finishing runner-up back on the all-weather before running a very creditable fifth in unsuitable ground in the Champion Hurdle; and she got back to winning ways in the Scottish Champion Hurdle in May before making a return to the flat where she ran fourth behind Dee Ex Bee in the Sagaro Stakes.
She hasn’t been seen out since, so she may just need this outing, while the likelihood of soft ground isn’t altogether in her favour so she’ll do well to retain her crown.
Epatante (6/1, Ladbrokes) also hails from the Nicky Henderson yard, and she is the only other mare in the contest alongside her stablemate.
The No Risk At All mare made a really good impression last term, winning her first two starts over hurdles following her arrival from France where she won twice in bumpers and the point-to-point sphere.
Her debut for Nicky Henderson saw her post a useful effort over this course and distance, beating Ey Up Rocky, and she followed up in impressive fashion at Exeter in February before being sent to the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival where she could only finish ninth and well beaten.
Possibly unsuited by the ground that day, she was an impressive winner back from a break at Newbury in November where she cruised to a six lengths’ victory over French Crusader, and she likely has more to offer.
This is a big step up in class, but she is potentially top-drawer and may improve considerably for that reappearance if handling the softer ground she’s likely to encounter this time around.
The third of the Henderson trio, FUSIL RAFFLES (7/4, Ladbrokes) could be the one to side with and the Saint Des Saints gelding overcame plenty of adversity to make a winning return to action in the Elite Hurdle where he ground down a race-fit rival in Grand Sancy to score narrowly, and the benefit of that outing surely won’t be lost on him.
The Adonis Hurdle winner over course and distance, he stepped up on that performance to lower the colours of Fakir D’oudairies at Punchestown in May having been forced to miss out on Cheltenham the previous month.
He probably needed his reappearance at Wincanton where the ground was the softest he had encountered, but he ran keenly throughout and gave jockey Daryl Jacob a hard time in the race as he fought his pilot almost every step of the way.
However, he loomed up to the eventual runner-up between the last two hurdles and although made to fight all the way to the line he did knuckle down well against his race-fit rival and he should come on a bundle for that outing.
Like his stablemates, he has yet to encounter proper soft ground so his ability to handle potentially testing ground has to be taken on trust; but if he handles the likely prevailing soft ground then he holds solid claims of making it four wins from four starts, and he remains a very exciting prospect this season over timber.
Ballyandy (16/1, Coral) ran his best race for some time when finishing strongly for the runner-up spot in the recent International Hurdle at Cheltenham, but Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge looks up against it as he bids to follow up that effort.
The Kayf Tara gelding hasn’t always looked straightforward over hurdles, but he remains capable of good form although perhaps falls short of the top level.
He was only beaten a neck last time out, finishing strongly up the hill, but he’s not certain to be suited by what is likely to be more of a test of speed this time around; while he had a relatively hard race latest and that may just have taken the edge off him.
Ch’tibello (10/1, Unibet) also contested that International Hurdle, finishing just behind Ballyandy where he led over the last hurdle but was unable to maintain his effort to the line and he couldn’t go with the front pair.
He still finished three lengths’ ahead of the fourth however, and Dan Skelton’s charge can give another good account with a repeat, although like Ballyandy could just find this coming plenty soon enough.
That Cheltenham outing was his first in more than eight months, having rounded off last campaign with a County Hurdle win during the Festival, after which he finished an excellent third to Supasundae at Aintree in the Grade One Aintree Hurdle.
He had also finished third to Yanworth in the 2016 renewal of this race, and he has proven a consistent operator since; however, he has struggled in the past against top-class opposition and it might be a similar story again here.
Elixir De Nutz (16/1, Ladbrokes) is a third runner here to come out of the International Hurdle, and Colin Tizzard’s charge looked in need of that reappearance having missed the second half of his season through injury following his win in the Tolworth Hurdle back in January.
The Al Namix gelding showed progressive form with each start, winning twice at Cheltenham prior to that Grade One success at Sandown where he beat Grand Sancy, although injury kept him out of the game for the remainder of the season.
As such, he was entitled to need his reappearance at Cheltenham earlier in the month where he beat only one home, weakening out of contention having made most and giving way at the final obstacle.
However, he should strip fitter for that outing and can do better with the run under his belt so he has to be respected, although he may not be suited by a test of speed around this much sharper track, and it remains to be seen if this run comes too soon following his reappearance.
Getaway Trump (8/1, Coral) has been tried over fences for both his runs this term, but Paul Nicholls’ charge hasn’t been convincing as a chaser and will make a return to hurdles for this contest where the Getaway gelding can give a good account.
A prolific winner last term, winning four times in total in a successful novice campaign, his best effort arguably came when tackling a longer trip behind Champ in the Challow Hurdle last December; however, he proved he had the speed for two miles when rounding off his campaign with a pair of wins at Ayr and Sandown over the lesser trip, beating the useful Harambe on the latter occasion.
He has been let down by his jumping over fences the last twice, finishing third on both occasions which includes the Arkle Trial, and a return to hurdling could help reinstil confidence. This however is a big ask returning to the smaller obstacles thrust into a strong Grade One, and a first-time tongue-tie will need to deliver some improvement if he’s to come out on top at a venue which might not best suit him.
Silver Streak (12/1, Ladbrokes) is a very smart performer at his best, showing what he can do when winning the Welsh Champion Hurdle on his reappearance last term before being competitive in a range of handicap contests as well as the Grade Two Champion Hurdle Trial where he found only Global Citizen too strong.
Evan Williams’ charge surpassed all his previous efforts when finishing third in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and he possibly failed to see out the longer trip at Aintree on his final outing of the campaign.
He has since returned with a win at this venue in October, beating Beat The Judge by eight lengths to land a Listed prize, while he perhaps wasn’t suited by heavy ground at Newcastle latest in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
The Dark Angel gelding might prefer better ground than this, but he has the ability to get involved and probably wouldn’t need to find too much improvement to post a big effort so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him bag place money.
Quick Grabim (20/1, Coral) makes his first start for new handler Fergal O’Brien, although the Oscar gelding will really need to be at his best to land this prize taking on race-fit rivals.
Formerly with Willie Mullins, he won three times last term from his six starts which included the Grade One Royal Bond Hurdle, and he subsequently finished fourth to Klassical Dream at Punchestown in April before possibly just being streteched by the longer trip at Auteuil when last seen.
He has won on soft ground in the past, but that was a minor contest and his best winning form has all come on a much quicker surface; nevertheless, he ought to handle conditions and his run in France came in testing ground which didn’t appear to inconvenience too much.
Given his form in Ireland he can’t be easily discounted making his first start for a handler which continues in good form, although on balance he does need to find some improvement in this field.
Completing the ten-runner line-up is Australian raider Big Blue (100/1, Unibet) who makes his UK debut, but the Galileo gelding looks to face a very stiff task thrust immediately into Grade One company.
A smart performer on his native soil, winning the Galleywood Cup at Warrnambool back in May, he arrives here having finished third on the flat at Flemington last month where he was beaten two lengths behind Shared Ambition.
This is likely to be a much tougher test than anything he’s faced before as he returns to obstacles, and he’s likely to struggle against some proven Grade One rivals where he could find himself outclassed.
Nicky Henderson has won this race eight times in the past, including the the last two renewals with Buveur D’air two years ago and the defending champion Verdana Blue who caused an upset in this race to claim the spoils twelve months ago.
However, it could be another of the yard’s runners in FUSIL RAFFLES (7/4, Ladbrokes) who potentially continues the Seven Barrows’ trainer’s winning run in this race, and the Saints Des Saints gelding should come a bundle for his winning reapperance in the recent Elite Hurdle.
Sent off at 4/7, he certainly didn’t win in the style of an odds-on chance; but it was his first run of the season, and he took on a race-fit rival so the success has to be creditable given he raced keenly for most of the race on ground that was probably as soft as he would have wanted.
However, despite the negatives he still managed to extend his winning run to three, and he already has course-winning form in the book having won impressively here on debut back in February in the Adonis Hurdle prior to beating Fakir D’oudairies in a Grade One at Punchestown later in the campaign.
He is sure to be sharper for his reappearance, and if settling better here then he ought to prove tough to beat although this looks a very strong renewal of this Grade One prize, and he can extend his unbeaten record.
2019 CHRISTMAS HURDLE SELECTION – FUSIL RAFFLES (7/4, Ladbrokes)