By Barry McEneaney
Poungach (2:00 Kempton)
While the King George and the Christmas Hurdle are very much be the cross-channel highlights this afternoon, Kempton’s other Grade 1 contest - the Feltham Novices’ Chase - could provide a less challenging betting opportunity.
Odd-on favourite Dynaste has much in common with stablemate and last year’s winner Grand Crus. His efforts in graded races over timber and in two wins from as many runs over fences means quotes of 8-15 are entirely fair.
However, if he is to taste defeat for the first time over the larger obstacles, by far the most likely contender to inflict it is Paul Nicholls’ Poungach. The six-year-old has been made to look horribly slow on a number of occasions – not a trait you’d welcome on a sped-figuring track like Kempton – but with soft ground and another step up in trip likely to suit, he can give the favourite a stern test of his Cheltenham Festival credentials.
His recent victory over Super Duty after a prolonged duel at Haydock has already been franked emphatically and the 6-1 available about him this afternoon probably doesn’t reflect the dominance he enjoys over his other five rivals.
Whatever the outcome, it’s almost certainly worth avoiding taking a short price about the winner of this race for the RSA Chase at the Festival, as those that score here have a lamentable record in that contest.
Blood Cotil (1:20 Leopardstown)
Willie Mullins’ decision to rely solely on French import Blood Cotil in the juvenile feature of Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting looks highly significant. The champion trainer boasted a strong hand of early entries for the race before siding with the facile winner of his only race on these shores.
His Fairyhouse demolition job came against just five seriously overmatched opponents, but the manner of his victory and the likelihood of considerable improvement makes him of strong interest. Despite racing keenly in the early stages, he coasted clear late on and that 17-lenght winning margin, against admittedly limited opposition, places him firmly in the ‘could be anything’ category.
So often it pays to eschew the lure of untapped potential for a horse with solid form in the book. The latter horse comes in the form of Our Conor in a race which the odds compilers and the betting public basically consider a match. He comes into the race with the strongest form in the book, but those he has vanquished have few pretensions to make it to the top in this division. If a shock is to occur, it could just be provided by Money Spider. Another major step forward is required after her win against lowly opposition on her most recent start, but she at least looked like a filly on the upgrade and could outrun her massive odds in a renewal lacking strength in depth.
Avrika Ligeonnire (2.55 Leopardstown)
The blazing front-running performance Avrika Ligeonnire delivered on his seasonal reappearance at Fairhouse was always likely to result in him starting as favourite for the Racing Post Novice Chase. The manner of that gung-ho victory negates any concerns surrounding the drop back in trip and replicating that level of form should seal victory here.
Main market rival Oscars Well suffered a crashing fall over fences on his penultimate start after a successful fencing bow, but his confidence will have been slightly restored after a bloodless win at Navan. However, he still simply hasn’t run nearly as fast as Mullins’ embryonic chaser and overturning the favourite remains a huge task.