The countdown is well and truly underway, but I don’t mean to Christmas as less than three months is all that separates us from the Cheltenham Festival .
And over a packed Christmas period we will get chance to see a host of equine stars that topple the markets for those fabulous four days in March.
No fewer than 12 race meetings will take place on either side of the Irish Sea on Boxing Day, the Christmas Festival in Leopardstown and the William Hill Festival at Kempton spearheading the festivities.
Un De Sceaux showed all the credentials of a future Racing Post Arkle winner last weekend as he sauntered to victory at Fairyhouse.
Advised at 6-1 in this column two weeks ago, he was promptly cut to 5-2 by some bookmaking firms as he jumped immaculately.
His trademark trailblazing tactics are something to behold as he sets off at a ferocious gallop and attacks his fences with his rivals toiling behind, but some experts have questioned whether his tactics suit major spring festivals.
However, jockey Ruby Walsh laughed off these suggestions: “He did it well. It was a competitive race and he does what he always does, jumped out and went a really good gallop.
“It will probably suit a lot of other horses to have a genuine front runner in the race so it’s an honest race run at a very strong pace. But he goes a really good gallop and he could prove to be a hard horse to catch up with, let alone pass.”
Reve de Sivola cemented his place in racing folklore as he claimed the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle for a remarkable third time on Saturday at Ascot.
His regular day out in the mud looked set to be ruined as he was joined by the smooth travelling Paul Nicholls- trained favourite Zarkandar, who quickly put three lengths between him and his rival at the last fence, but the tenacious Reve De Sivola refused to be beaten and dug deep to capture victory.
It was a very satisfying moment for winning jockey Daryl Jacob, who was replaced as head jockey at the Nicholls yard by Sam Twiston-Davies at the end of last season.
Jacob, who rides King George fancy Cue Card on Boxing Day, was delighted with Reve’s battling qualities.
To kick off proceedings at Kempton on Boxing Day, a statue of the almighty Kauto Star will be unveiled to commemorate the five-time King George hero’s achievements at his favourite track.
With the former Nicholls inmate there to witness his ceremony, Kauto Star could see an ex-stablemate claim his crown as the King of Kempton.
Silviniaco Conti is the returning champion after a convincing victory in the race last year as he outstayed the long-time leader, and also returning runner-up, Cue Card.
He returns in top form for the Nicholls yard after winning the Betfair Chase and has been the long-time race favourite but it could be worth siding with his under-rated stablemate Al Ferof who has gone undetected after a forgettable last season in which he was plagued with ulcers.
The John Hales-owned nine-year-old still managed a commendable third in this race last year and that was despite his problems and with such a convincing reappearance in which he routed an outstanding field in the Amlin Chase at Ascot, despite Nicholls claiming he wouldn’t be fully tuned up he can take this on route to a possible crack at the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
With the forecast ground conditions sure to suit, Hales is confident Al Ferof can upstage his higher rated stable mate: “Funnily enough, it’s very much like before Al Ferof won the Paddy Power Gold Cup in that I think he’s slipped under the radar a bit.
“He did have problems last year, as Paul did with some other horses in the yard. We found out his performances dropped off because he had ulcers.
“He’d only been in training eight weeks when he won the Amlin. I have high hopes, given ground conditions may be good to soft, he’ll have a good performance on Boxing Day.”
At more diminutive odds we can safely watch Vatour 1/3 (Racing Post Novice Chase, Leopardstown) Faugheen 4/9 (Christmas Hurdle, Kempton) and Kalkir 1/3 (Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle, Leopardstown) claim comfortable victories to enhance their escalating reputations and lay down markers for Cheltenham but at the forecast prices the only option would be a treble on all three to win.
Al Ferof 6/1 King George VI, Kempton, Boxing Day.
Treble Vatour (1/3), Faugheen (4/9), Kalkir (1/3).