Boxing Day remains one of the great days of sport in Britain and Ireland. Horse racing always plays a key role in the day’s sporting action with the headline race being the King George at Kempton. As you would expect, the ITV Racing cameras will be in attendance for the best of the racing at Kempton while also broadcasting the long-running Rowland Meyrick Handicap at Wetherby.
With three Grade 1 races, some very competitive handicaps and a host of big names on show, this promises to be an excellent day of racing. Whether making the trip to the racecourse or simply watching on from the comfort of your living room, we have your Boxing Day covered with our racing tips for each of the live races.
1:20 Get Your Ladbrokes £1 Free Bet Today Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase
Class 3, 2m4½f
The first live ITV race of Boxing Day is a bit of a curious one. The last 10 renewals have produced just three winning favourites and yet the longest priced winner in that time is 8/1. That trend could continue this season. The early bookies’ favourite, Bothwell Bridge does look well handicapped but he will need quite a lot of rain to fall ahead of the race as Nicky Henderson has made it clear that his six year old wants soft ground.
Danny Kirwan is a very tempting option to take the favourite on at odds of 7/2. Paul Nicholls can’t help but have been pleased with the way his eight year old ran on his chasing debut at Cheltenham last time out. He showed a very game attitude to tackle the bigger obstacles but did have the look of a horse who would appreciate going right-handed. Danny Kirwan gets that chance at Kempton where he has the chance to improve for that recent experience and as it is his second run since wind surgery.
1:55 Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase
Grade 1, 3m
The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase is the first of the three Grade 1s at Kempton on Boxing Day. Named after one of the greats of the game, this is an important race and could represent a major stepping stone for the winner.
According to the bookies that winner is likely to be Bravemansgame. He was an excellent staying hurdler for Paul Nicholls last season and, as expected, he looks even better over fences. Wins at Newton Abbot and Haydock have racing fans excited about a possible rematch with Bob Olinger at Cheltenham but the immediate task at hand is getting the better of Ahoy Senor for Lucinda Russell who is having a wonderful season.
Ahoy Senor came out on top when these two last met over hurdles and he too has made a very good start to life over fences. If he can make this a slog from the front then Ahoy Senor can come out on top again at a price of 5/4.
2:10 William Hill Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase
Grade 3, 3m
The Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase is the big Christmas cracker of a race at Wetherby. Dating back to the 1950s, this three-mile chase always produces a strong field and winning it demands a very good staying performance.
The last two winners of the race arrived at Wetherby on the back of near misses from their previous races. The search for a well-handicapped horse who ran well last time and can go on to win this Grade 3 quickly takes you to Windsor Avenue. Brian Ellison’s nine year old hasn’t won since November 2019 but was as good as he has been for some time when finishing second in a very competitive handicap at Bangor-on-Dee in November. Windsor Avenue was put up just a pound for that run so if he comes on for the run he could be a serious player at odds of 7/1.
2:30 Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle
Grade 1, 2m
Epatante is one of the best mares in National Hunt racing. When she ended last season with three straight defeats it was certainly worrying for all connected to the 2020 Champion Hurdle winner. It transpired that she had a problem with her back and so underwent surgery in the summer to put things right. Nicky Henderson was confident that procedure would allow Epatante to be at her best once again and while she still looks short of getting the better of Honeysuckle, Epatante ran well enough on her reappearance at Newcastle last month.
A valiant performance from Not So Sleepy denied Epatante the outright win in the Fighting Fifth with the race ending in a dead heat. Not So Sleepy was an 18/1 shot that day but is available at a price of just 10/3 at Kempton. He will be a serious challenger again but better ground at Kempton is likely to bring out further improvement from Epatante who can continue working her way back to her best and claim this Christmas Hurdle for a second time at 4/5.
3:05 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase
Grade 1, 3m
With a record 12 King George wins, Paul Nicholls knows more than most about the race. In his view, this is as strong a renewal as we’ve seen for some time and he is delighted with his string of horses –Clan Des Obeaux, Frodon and Saint Calvados.
The strength of the race is such that Nicholls will need one of his three to beat last year’s Gold Cup winner Frodon, the supremely talented if frustrating Asterion Forlonge and Nicky Henderson’s excellent Chantry House if he is to pick up his 13th win. He should be able to though with preference given to bookies’ favourite Clan Des Obeaux. Frodon will help to set a strong pace from the front but he has already won a big Grade 1 this season and is unlikely to be at his very best again until the spring.
This has always been the plan for Clan Des Obeaux though and his love of this race, which demands speed as well as stamina, gives him the edge against Minella Indo who is better in a tougher stamina test and will take a lot of beating back at Cheltenham in March.