Malcolm Jefferson received an extra helping of Christmas cheer when According To Pete won the feature race at Wetherby last Boxing Day and the Norton trainer aims for more of the same this time around with Cape Tribulation – provided the meeting survives an 11am inspection today.
Further heavy rain in recent days on already saturated ground has caused severe headaches for all involved in racing as the busy Christmas period looms.
But Jefferson has set his sights on the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase with Cape Tribulation as he switches his hurdling high-achiever back to fences.
The temptation is understandable. After winning major handicaps earlier this year over hurdles at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals, Cape Tribulation is now on a lofty rating of 158, whereas over fences, he can race off a mark a full 16lb lower.
That, of course, does not tell the whole story. Cape Tribulation is not as good a chaser as he is a hurdler. He has won only one of his seven starts over the major obstacles, but his overall form, which includes a Grade 2 runner-up effort on this course, is wholly respectable.
The Betfair-sponsored showpiece has attracted a field of nine runners, each of which have a question mark hanging over them.
In an ideal world, Cape Tribulation would have preferred a sounder surface, but he is a classy horse on his day and if booked jockey Jack Doyle can get him popping away over fences and conserve his energy until the home straight, there is every chance that Jefferson could be celebrating his second successive Rowland Meyrick – and a first prize of more than £22,000.
McMurrough also has good prospects of obliging for Jefferson in the Read Nicholls & McCain Exclusively On Betfair Handicap Chase.
Harry Haynes’ mount got his career back on track over fences at Newcastle last time out, confirming his ability to act on deep ground. He should make a bold attempt to double up.
Roi De Garde (12.35), a winner here on his last start, and Bravo Bravo (1.10), who should appreciate the return to two and a half miles, are two others to note on the Wetherby card.
At Kempton, the main focus of attention from this neck of the woods will be on the Grade 1 williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle and the bid of Countrywide Flame from John Quinn’s Norton stable.
A top-notch juvenile hurdler last term, when he won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, Countrywide Flame looked an improved performer when running away with the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
A horse who seems versatile on any ground, the four-year-old renews rivalry with Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Cinder And Ashes, runner-up in the Fighting Fifth.
It will be an acid-test, but it is one within the compass of Countrywide Flame, who is reunited with Newcastle jockey Denis O’Regan and is awarded the nap vote.
The King George VI Chase will not seem quite the same without the now-retired Kauto Star, the five-times winner, but a fine race is in prospect and the vote goes to Long Run.
Runner-up to Kauto Star in this race last season, having won the previous running before winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Long Run has never quite matched that sort of brilliance since. But he’s not far from it, and his runner-up effort behind the fitter Silviniaco Conte in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month should have put him spot-on.
The Kempton card is an absolute crackerjack. The potentially top-class River Maigue (12.50) will surely be hard to beat in the opening novices’ hurdle, while Coole River (1.25), a former Grade 2-winning hurdler when trained in Ireland, can win on his second start over fences for Emma Lavelle.
Dynaste (2.00) bids for a hat-trick of chase wins.
Wetherby (Boxing Day)
12.25 Roi De Garde, 1.10 Bravo Bravo, 1.45 Cape Tribulation, 2.20 Green Wizard, 2.55 McMurrough, 3.30 Lakeman.
Inspection 11am today.
Kempton (Boxing Day)
12.50 River Maigue, 1.25 Coole River, 2.00 Dynaste, 2.35 Countrywide Flame (NAP), 3.10 Long Run, 3.45 Bathwick Brave.
Boxing Day’s other meetings: Ffos Las, Fontwell, Market Rasen, Sedgefield (inspection noon today), Towcester, Wincanton and Wolverhampton. The meeting at Huntingdon was abandoned.