It’s a quiet time of year for a lot of sports right now unless of course you’re a National Hunt Racing enthusiast, in which case you’re spoilt for choice. There will be no shortage of supporters making the short trip to Leopardstown for the Christmas Festival later this week and punters will also keep one eye on the action across the water, particularly the King George chase at Kempton.
Mount Benbulben, trained by Gordon Elliot, will be a particularly popular selection for this race and at the time of writing (before declarations), he’s a 14/1 shot with Paddy Power. Serious question marks remain over his jumping, all the more so after he unseated Danny Mullins in his only outing this season at Down Royal, but in a wide open event he makes a lot of appeal. Plenty of rain has been forecast and he certainly won’t mind at all if the ground comes up soft or even heavy, while three miles is the perfect distance for him. Trip considerations were a big part of why he chose to skip the John Durkan chase a few weeks ago. He’s also much better suited by a right handed track and while all these reasons are good indicators as to why he should be swerved at Cheltenham, he looks like a good value shout here.
Favourite Cue Card is expected to go off at around 3/1 or 7/2, but he should be avoided for a variety of reasons. Paul Nicholls has essentially stated that he’ll be using his full complement of horses as a team to discommode the favourite as much as possible, while Colin Tizzard has also spoken of worries regarding a virus in the yard. Above all, this race is likely to be one of the primary targets for the season for a horse like Mount Benbulben – for Cue Card, peaking in March at Cheltenham will be the goal.
This week there will also be plenty of local interest in Well Refreshed, the Welsh National contender owned by Limerick native Patrick Philpott. He’s expected to be around 10/1 once declarations are in and if the ground comes up soft, those odds could justify a small each way investment.
Racing at Chepstow will be a new experience for the nine year old gelding and he has raced best on relatively flat tracks in the past, but he looks like a progressive, pacey sort and if we assume that his jumping will continue to improve – this will be just his tenth start over fences – he definitely has the class to be in the shake up here.
by Kevin Egan for Paddy Power