I had a rare Boxing Day watching the racing on television. It was not planned as my intended five runners were all meant to be at Huntingdon. However, sadly too much water had spilled over from the local stream into the racecourse stable yard and the weighing room — two areas that racing rather needs to go ahead.
This resulted in me channel-hopping from ITV, Racing TV and Skysports Racing all afternoon — yes, all rather stressful — but I was not able to watch racing from Ireland as I had run out of fingers and time.
Kempton has always been the highlight of the Christmas racing calendar. This year, with only five runners in the King George VI Chase, you might have thought that was disappointing but it wasn’t, with four out of the five having every chance of winning the feature race.
It was a wide-open contest and almost impossible to pick the winner as there were too many imponderables.
Lostintranslation was last season’s second-best novice chaser and Cyrname is the top-rated chaser in the country — both horses came into the race having had hard races at Haydock and Ascot. Then there was last year’s winner Clan Des Obeaux, and Footpad from Ireland. Aso, a good horse in his own right, was a 28/1 shot.
Harry Cobden made the decision to ride Cyrname, which meant Paul Nicholls asked his former stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies to return to the fold for the second time this season to ride Clan Des Obeaux.
The race certainly did not go according to plan as Cyrname never really looked happy and Lostintranslation was not jumping as well as he could. It was left for Sam, who was riding with no pressure on his shoulders, to claim the race — and the pair duly scooted up.
Sam has been riding brilliantly all season and with so much confidence; he must have enjoyed the last-minute call from his old boss to ride a spare.
A fine ride and a fine training performance yet again from the master trainer from Ditcheat, who was recording his 11th King George win — a staggering achievement.
The real deal
Epatante became the new Champion Hurdle favourite after surging clear in the Christmas Hurdle. The mare has had very little racing since arriving on the British scene last November, having raced and won in France.
She might not be very big and rumour has it that she cost a small fortune, but from the day she stepped out at Kempton last November, she has looked the real deal — bar when she was beaten at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Nicky Henderson is good at training mares and this little lady has taken some calming — the hood she wore at Cheltenham has not been seen since. Epatante is now a worthy favourite, especially as most of her opposition have been sidelined.
Perhaps the highlight of the Boxing Day racing was seeing Faugheen, a past dual winner of the Christmas Hurdle, win the Grade One Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase at Limerick, beating Samcro. Now aged 11, Faugheen could be considered too old to go chasing, but not if you are trained by the legendary Willie Mullins.
Ref Horse & Hound; 2 January 2020