Great Britain-Ireland Preview: Spot Plays for Dec. 26

December 24th, 2022

Bad weather has halted a lot of racing in Britain and Ireland in recent weeks, but it looks like it should return fully for Dec. 26, one of the big days of the year for jumps racing.

The Boxing Day features include the King George VI Steeplechase (G1), the biggest set-weight race for jumpers outside the Cheltenham Festival, along with several other top races.

Ireland hosts a week of top-class jumps racing as well, starting with Grade 1 contests at Leopardstown and Limerick. Here’s a look at some plays for the features.

Kempton, Race 2, 7:45 a.m. ET: Long Walk Hurdle (G1), 3 1/16 miles, open hurdlers

A nice, compact field of five horses is in this, and none looks to be out of it. #1 Champ is the favorite after beating #4 Paisley Park in the Long Distance Hurdle (G2) at Newbury Nov. 25; he is hard to follow sometimes, but perhaps the most obvious point is that he seems best away from Cheltenham.

The mare #5 Miranda is being given her chance against the boys here; she put up her best performance yet when winning at this track and distance Nov. 21, but she probably still needs to improve to win here.

#3 Not So Sleepy will have a much better chance here now that he’s away from Constitution Hill, but perhaps the most talented horse in the field is #2 Goshen. He is trying three miles for the first time but looked outstanding when winning over 2 1/2 miles at Ascot Nov. 19. He always seems best on clockwise tracks such as this one and can make the step up here.

  • $10 win/$20 place: #2 Goshen
  • $2 trifecta: 2 with 1, 3, 4 with 1, 3, 4

Kempton, Race 3, 8:20 a.m. ET: Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (G1), 3 miles, novice steeplechasers

Again, just five runners for this Grade 1 event for novice staying chasers. Two, #2 McFabulous and #4 Thyme Hill, are familiar figures from the staying hurdler circuit having a go over big fences, and to date they’ve made a good go of it. Both won their debut chases before meeting in the John Francome Novice (G2), where McFabulous got the upper hand by more than six lengths. McFabulous was receiving three pounds that day, and they are at level weights here, but he won so well that it’s hard to see a reverse.

The biggest opposition will probably come from #1 Gelino Bello, a winner of both his steeplechases to date, admittedly against weaker company.

Though the price may not be great, McFabulous looks to have strong claims here and I’m going to focus plays on him.

  • $10 win: #2 McFabulous
  • $1 trifecta: 2 with 1, 4 with 1, 4

Kempton, Race 4, 8:55 a.m. ET: Christmas Hurdle (G1), 2 miles, open hurdlers

This one is unlikely to get you rich. #1 Constitution Hill will be at microscopic odds despite having raced over hurdles just four times, but he deserves the short odds after demolition jobs in the Supreme Novices Hurdle (G1) in March and the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (G1) Nov. 26. In the latter he beat stablemate #5 Epatante, a former Champion Hurdle winner, effortlessly.

The best investments here may be in trifectas, with options using Epatante for second.

  • $2 trifecta: 1 with 5 with all

Leopardstown, Race 5, 9:20 a.m. ET: Racing Post Novice Chase (G1), 2 1/8 miles, novice steeplechasers

The first of two Grade 1 novice chases in Ireland on the day, and indeed a few horses have been entered for both. In this event at just over two miles, the three primary chances appear to be #1 Hollow Games and #5 Fil Dor, both from the Gordon Elliott yard, and #3 Saint Roi, who represents Willie Mullins.

Fil Dor is likely to be favorite after winning his steeplechasing debut Nov. 27 at Navan, beating Saint Roi. He was receiving eight pounds that day and that’s down to six here, but that’s probably not enough to overturn four lengths.

Hollow Games also has a four-length Navan win to his credit, this time on Nov. 13. He’s looked good at times and has a little more age on his side, and may be at decent odds.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #1 Hollow Games

Kempton, Race 5, 9:30 a.m. ET: King George VI Chase (G1), 3 miles, open steeplechasers

Usually one of the best steeplechases in Britain, and as always it’s attracted a top field. Much will depend on the state of the ground.

Interestingly, it’s two second-season chasers that are the focus of most attention. #2 Bravemansgame may well have started favorite in the Brown Advisory Chase (G1) at Cheltenham last year but was taken out on the day when the track became very wet, victory going then to #7 L’Homme Presse. Both have started their seasons with victories, Bravemansgame in the Charlie Hall Chase (G2) at Wetherby and L’Homme Presse in the Rehearsal H. (G2) at Newcastle.

Bookies are favoring Bravemansgame but I’ve always liked L’Homme Presse and his effort at Newcastle while carrying top weight was highly impressive. He’s at least a strong chance if the track is good to soft, and a very strong one if it’s wetter.

Of the others, Irish visitor #4 Envoi Allen looks the best to me following his Down Royal Champion Chase (G1) triumph Nov. 5, but I also wouldn’t rule out #6 Hitman for exotics, nor 2020 winner #5 Frodon on one of his favorite tracks.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #7 L’Homme Presse
  • $1 trifecta: 2, 7 with 2, 4, 7 with 2, 4, 5, 6, 7

Limerick, Race 5, 9:40 a.m. ET: Faugheen Novice Chase (G1), 2 7/16 miles, novice steeplechasers

The second of two Grade 1 novice chases in Ireland on Dec. 26, this one is for the horses wanting a bit more distance than the Leopardstown event. As seems normal, this looks like a contest between the Elliott and Mullins barns.

Favored by many will be #4 Gerri Colombe, who is unbeaten under National Hunt rules. At his steeplechasing debut Nov. 15 he was too strong for a useful field at Fairyhouse, and he looks good enough to handle this company.

However, this is clearly a much tougher test, as he comes up against some horses with proven top-level novice form, albeit in hurdles. #5 Kilcruit, third in last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle, won effortlessly at his chasing debut at Punchestown Nov. 19, and I’m going to go with him.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #5 Kilcruit