Little went to script over an engrossing festive period as heavy favourites were brutally vanquished, unsung heroes emerged, legends fell and new stars were born. Many punters may have been cursing the performances of runners like Sizing John and Faugheen, but others would have been laughing all the way to the bank as several long shots landed. Here are five things we learned from an exhilarating week:
Henderson’s hero might beat everyone
One favourite that did justify his status was Might Bite, who landed the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. The field was extremely competitive, featuring Betfair Chase champion Bristol De Mai, last year’s winner Thistlecrack and in-form Fox Norton. But it was a 50/1 shot that gave Might Bite his biggest fright as Double Shuffle chased him every inch of the way for a superb second place. Tea for Two was third, while the much-vaunted trio of Bristol De Mai, Thistlecrack and Fox Norton were well off the pace.
The King George VI is the second most prestigious chase in the National Hunt calendar after the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and Might Bite’s sensational victory has left him as the favourite for the forthcoming March showpiece. Check out the odds at https://www.sunbets.co.uk/ and you will see he is 7/2 and that looks very tempting as he is a superb jumper. Bristol De Mai will return to form, and you cannot write off Sizing John, but right now Might Bite is the one to beat. Trainer Nicky Henderson has an extremely strong hand heading into the business end of the season, as Might Bite’s stablemate Buveur D’Air won the Christmas Hurdle in effortless fashion and has great potential.
Respect the Road
One runner that might stop Might Bite in the Gold Cup is Road To Respect, who made a mockery of odds of 10/1 to win the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown. Last season’s Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, went into Leopardstown’s Christmas highlight as the heavy favourite, followed by much-hyped Yorkhill and Djakadam, but Road To Respect destroyed the lot of them. It was a Gigginstown House Stud 1-2-3 in the big race as 66-1 shot Balko Des Flos and 16/1 chance Outlander followed Road To Respect home in the €150,000 feature.
Disappointment for Mullins
Willie Mullins was downbeat after Yorkhill flopped in the Christmas Chase, but it was not his gravest disappointment over the festive season. Worse news came with the announcement that leading chaser Douvan would miss the entire jumps season. Douvan won 13 out of 13 for Mullins before suffering a pelvic injury in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last March. He was expected to return to glory this season, but Mullins declared him “intermittently lame” and said he would play no part in the current campaign.
The Irish maestro then lost one of his greatest servants when multiple Grade One winner Nichols Canyon had to be put down following a fall at Leopardstown. Then the great Faugheen was mysteriously pulled up in the Ryanair Hurdle and there are concerns as to whether he might go the same way as Douvan. It was a testing time for the trainer, but Mullins has been in this game long enough to deal with setbacks, and he still earned six winners at Leopardstown and three at Limerick over Christmas. In Footpad, Min, Sharjah and Real Steel he still has a decent hand heading into the second half of the season, and Yorkhill could bounce back if he comes down in trip.
Apple’s Jade leaves rivals green with envy
Michael O’Leary’s brilliant mare dug deep to see off Supasundae in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle, a race overshadowed by the tragedy surrounding Nichols Canyon. With that great jumper sadly out of the picture and Unowhatimeanharry in poor form, Apple’s Jade could go on to dominate the Stayers’ Hurdle in March. She is vying with Sam Spinner for favouritism in the ante-post betting for that race but looks the better option if Gigginstown decides to put her forward.
O’Brien breaks into the big time
Fergal O’Brien claimed his first Grade One winner when Poetic Rhythm romped to victory in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday. It drew a guttural roar and a clenched fist from O’Brien, who told reporters he was pleased to finally get the Grade One monkey off his back. It was the perfect end to a fine year for O’Brien, who is emerging as a force to be reckoned with on the National Hunt scene and is one to watch out for going forward. Poetic Rhythm, who overcame a bout of colic to edge Mulcahys Hill with a gutsy display in testing conditions in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle, looks set to continue on an upward curve, while O’Brien has further strong prospects in Colin’s Sister, Cap Soleil, Oscar Rose and Global Stage.