MY last column of the year so, once again, I would like to wish you all a Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year and thank you for enduring my ramblings.
Last weekend young pretender The New One threw down the gauntlet to Hurricane Fly by readily disposing of Zarkandar by six lengths in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
We cut the winner to 3-1 favourite (from 7-2) for the Champion Hurdle at the same venue in March, but I still remain unconvinced that he is better than ‘The Fly’. There was a point after the last obstacle when Zarkandar was rallying where I thought he might beat The New One which very much keeps me in the Irish star’s camp.
On the same card Johns Spirit was unable to become the fourth horse to land both the Paddy Power Gold Cup and the Andy Stewart Thank You Gold Cup (better known as the December Gold Cup).
But Paddy Power runner-up Colour Squadron again ran a fine race finishing third to winner Double Ross and Cantlow and I’m sure the former will bag a big contest sometime in the future.
I’m looking forward to the four days of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, including Paddy Power day on December 27, but on St Stephen’s Day there is also the small matter of the King George at Kempton which is live on Channel 4 racing. I’m not going to give up on Long Run who, despite not really having fired yet this season, I think is a huge each-way price at 14-1.
Some of you will ask why should he reverse the form of the Lancashire Chase with Cue Card and I would direct you to my selection’s form going right-handed and at Kempton.
If he gets these conditions, he’s close to unbeatable – since the former French star came to England, he has run right-handed four times at Kempton, winning three and finishing runner-up to Kauto Star in this race on the other occasion in 2011.
The other time that he went to the right came in the Punchestown Gold Cup in April, when he ran another stormer, this time going down to Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs by three-quarters of a length.
After two defeats this term, both left-handed at Wetherby and Haydock, a lot of pundits have been quick to write him off. I can’t be having that as he’s only eight and I can see him bouncing back.
Meanwhile while Willie Mullins has Arvika Ligeonniere for the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase the following day, I reckon stable companion Twinlight can spring a surprise at a current 6-1.
This fellow falls into the category of ‘could be anything’ as he keeps improving through the chasing ranks. After winning a handicap chase at Punchestown in April, he won his Grade 3 at Naas before scoring in the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase at Cork earlier this month, comfortably disposing of Lead Kindly Light by six lengths. This is his first bash at the top level over fences, but he may just be up to it.
Turning to the footy, Roberto Martinez has to be a strong contender for manager of the year with Everton in fifth position and his side not having lost since October 5 and that can be excused as it was away to Manchester City.
In contrast I wasn’t impressed with either side as Swansea battled out a draw with Norwich at Carrow Road and I think Everton are a good bet at a current 7-5 to win away in Wales on Sunday. The Toffees didn’t play as well as they can, but were still far too good for Fulham in a 4-1 win at home .
Sunday 4pm Everton to win away at Swansea
Thursday December 26 Kempton 3.10pm Long Run each-way
Friday December 27 Leopardstown 1.20pm Twinlight