A maximum field of seven will go to post for the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day with Outlander the latest high-profile defection. There are still two potential Irish raiders in Road To Riches (20/1 at BetVictor) and Roi Des Francs (50/1) although the betting still suggests it is a virtual match between Cue Card (11/10) and Thistlecrak (11/8).
There is a valuable card at Ludlow this afternoon and Champion trainer Paul Nicholls will be hoping there is no overnight rain for his hurdling newcomer Brahms De Clermont (12.35) who lost his unbeaten record in bumpers when in mid-division in a listed contest at Cheltenham last month.
The selection had won his two previous starts on good ground and a decent surface looks essential; the ground is forecast to be good to soft at the Shropshire venue and there should be no excuses on that score this afternoon.
Evan Williams Monbeg Oscar ran well on his rules debut at Uttoxeter but may need further than the minimum trip over hurdles and looks a chaser-in-the-making.
Sam Twiston-Davies, who also has the leg up on Brahms De Clermont in the opener, has come back from injury as good as ever in recent days and I hope he can get a decent tune out of Westren Warrior (1.05) in the Novice Chase although this intermediate trip of 2m 4f is, arguably, on the sharp side.
Vocaliser (3.10) was a 40/1 shot when third at Sandown earlier in the month when he would have gone even closer but for blundering two out and the handicapper has left him on the same mark this afternoon. The jockey in this Lady Amateur Riders’ event is one I am not too familiar with, but a repetition of the Sandown run will make him tough to beat in this grade. There is plenty of pace in the race and I wouldn’t want the selection to get embroiled in a battle for the lead, but he was a winner on the level for Jim Bolger in Ireland and this tight two miles should suit.
Soft ground is the order of the day at Ffos Las and, despite the steadier of 12st 2lbs I hope to see a good run from Highway Storm of Rebecca Curtis despite the fact that the selection is 9lbs higher than when scoring over slightly shorter here last month. The point winner was always going to make up into a better chaser than hurdler and the booking of Aidan Coleman is certainly a positive.
Walk On Al looks a big danger for Fergal O’Brien but marginal preference is for the Curtis trained runner with the stable having a double at Hereford earlier in the week.
They go on the flat at Newcastle and Star Storm’s recent Kempton run was too bad to be true; he steps up to 2 miles for the first time this afternoon and a market move would be worth noting although his breeding suggests he isn’t sure to appreciate the step up in distance.
The vote goes to Steve Rogers (2.00) who returned to something like his best form at Kempton last time for Roger Varian, having been a beaten favourite in the Chester Cup back in May.
Go George Go (2.30) carries a 6lbs penalty for a recent C&D win and that might be enough to prevent him following up for Joe Fanning and Alan Swinbank who has his string in such good form of late.
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