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Christmas Hurdle preview

It's not just the King George at Kempton on Thursday, it's a quality card all round including a mouth-watering contest in the Christmas Hurdle. Yet another new contributor, Andrew Downes, @17forlife has put sharp thoughts onto 'paper' for this one...

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Christmas Hurdle

When you talk about Boxing Day in the horse racing world, most people think about the King George and rightly so, it’s a fantastic race but this year it could easily end up playing second fiddle to a mouthwatering Christmas Hurdle. Two outstanding English Champion Hurdle contenders in My Tent Or Yours (MTOY) and The New One (TNO) who lock horns for the first time since their Aintree champion bumper battle two years ago.

This Grade One hurdle is of course, according to the race card at least, not a two horse race. It says all you need to know about the two market principles that the other four runners only get a small mention in this race preview. They include a Grade 1 winner and a Greatwood runner-up who placed in a Grade 1 at the Cheltenham Festival 2013. That alone speaks volumes about how good these two principals are.

The rest are probably led by Sametegal (Paul Nicholls, Official Rating 150).
Plugged on for third in a below-par Triumph Hurdle before clearly improving over the summer when he finished a cracking second in the Greatwood. The odds are that he is still improving but the problem for this likeable sort is that so are the big two. We have to look at the fact he couldn’t win a handicap off 144 and if this was a handicap he’d be getting almost a stone and a half off The New One. He’s relatively easily dismissed.

Grumeti (Alan King, Official Rating 151), winner of the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at the Grand National Festival 2012, is higher rated than Sametegal however doesn’t look to have the improvement of the other 3. He always looked a strong, well developed juvenile who lacked the scope to really improve the amount he needs to in order to danger the market principles. He missed the entire previous jump season and has returned with two solid enough runs, one in a handicap off 153 and the other behind My Tent or Yours. Put into the mix the virus in the Alan King yard and Grumeti is fighting for third, nothing more.

The rest are in my opinion quite easily ignored;

Duke of Navan is simply below the level of these four.

The 500/1 outsider Chapel House will pick up £1,340 if he jumps round and quite a bit more should anything happen to the others. The owners can enjoy a day out and a guaranteed pay day, nice bit of placing if you ask me. (Ed. - unlikely, he's been pulled up at seven of his last eight runs!)

Now onto the big two, what a Christmas cracker this looks to be!
It’s been well documented that this season’s champion hurdle looks potentially the best renewal in a long time, it’s definitely the most exciting due to the amount of young, top quality hurdlers of which we really have no idea who is the best of them. There is however no doubt that these two here are the best England has to offer. The Neptune winner against a close second in the Supreme. Both of them confirmed their well-being and improvement in their seasonal re-appearance which catapulted them to the top two of the Champion hurdle betting. I’m getting excited for the race just writing about them!

My Tent Or Yours (N Henderson, Official Rating 160)
This strong travelling horse was second to this race’s rival in the 2012 Aintree Bumper, winner of the Betfair Hurdle, a close second to Champagne Fever (current 7/4 favourite for the Arkle) in the Supreme and an easy Fighting Fifth winner. His record on paper screams Champion Hurdle contender but videos of his races scream superstar. Anyone who has watched this lad’s races cannot fail to notice how well he travels all over top, top class horses. He is accused of not finishing his races after getting out fought twice in big contests however another summer of growing both mentally and physically means I believe this lad will finally fulfill his unbelievable potential.

Importantly he has shown that he is tactically adaptable. He sprinted clear of a slow pace in the Betfair Hurdle and then travelled well off a strong pace in Supreme before not quite getting past the very good winner. He is also versatile ground wise, won his Betfair Hurdle on soft (which it is certainly going to be on Boxing day).

The New One is a beautiful animal. His popular owners, the father and son trainer and jockey combination and his big local success in March have meant he is one of the most popular horses in training. He certainly has the talent to go with his popularity. Aside from being a taking winner of the Neptune, he then showed he was up to taking on the big boys with a neck defeat by Zarkandar in the Grade 1 2m4f Aintree hurdle. This year he impressively but not surprisingly showed that he has improved a great deal when easily brushing aside that same rival in the 74k International hurdle at Cheltenham as recently as last week.

So who is the likely winner?

Personally I think it is nigh on impossible to have a strong opinion that one horse is much better than the other at this stage, given their close bumper form and their obvious improvement since. It then comes down to tactics. There is a serious danger of there being no pace on in this race. None of the main five have led in recent races and quite a few take a keen hold so are unlikely to be allowed free rein to lead. This has to help The New One who settles far better than his rival however My Tent or Yours has reportedly been settling better at home and has had a race to take the freshness out of him. With the legend that is AP McCoy doing the steering it won’t be for lack of strength in the saddle to help him settle.

It will then come down to speed; they both have it in abundance although I believe MTOY is the quicker of the two. His rival has raced over further in his novice season and whilst he clearly isn’t slow he appears to have one quick burst of speed and if that’s not enough he could be in trouble. This is where I think MTOY will have the advantage. He has shown he can quicken off a slow pace in the Betfair Hurdle, he has shown that he has flick of a switch type speed. However the tactics pan out MTOY can cope whereas Sam Twiston-Davies needs to get the timing spot on to win in my opinion. He got it wrong against At Fishers Cross on trials day and lost but got it right in the Neptune.

I have deliberately not discussed the ground as they have both proved they handle all types of surface. The forecast for the next few days isn’t too bad and Kempton aren’t expecting much more rain before race time so I think we can expect soft ground, not heavy.

The one other factor which has had a big influence on me swaying with MTOY is the track. Kempton is completely different to Cheltenham especially in the finish. MTOY, as previously stated, hasn’t shown a love of a stiff finish however on a flat track like Newbury and Ascot, he has shown he sees out the 2m very strongly, were this race at Cheltenham in March my selection could well be the other challenger but I feel he needs that stiff finish.

I’m not going to patronise people and talk about the price, they are pretty much the same price around the 11/10 mark and that isn’t going to alter enough to change anyone’s bet. I recommend a bet on MTOY trusting that he settles and knowing that he has the quicker turn of foot on a flat track.

Selection: My Tent or Yours 11/10.

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