Alex Hammond's Festive Blog

Sky Sports Racing’s Alex Hammond looks ahead to an action-packed festive period and she’s singled out Truckers Lodge as her main Welsh National fancy.

Well, Christmas has gone the same way as the rest of 2020 and it’s going to look rather different this year. One thing that remains the same though is the quality of the racing programme over the ‘festive’ period, so something to look forward to for all of us that are staying put. Hey, look on the bright side, if you are home alone or just with a close friend or immediate family, you might not meet any resistance when it comes to TV viewing and the remote may be all yours!

I’m lucky to be heading to Chepstow on Sunday for the Welsh Grand National, a race I always look forward to. Some grand stagers have won this famous race over the years and despite the fact the reception for the winner will be virtually none existent, you can cheer loudly from the comfort of your sofa with us on Sky Sports Racing instead. One thing we know, the ground is going to be testing, but that’s no surprise at Chepstow at the end of December as invariably it is hit with proper winter conditions.

With Sky Bet paying five places, there must be some value to be found, so I’m going to look for some each-way action away from the protagonists. Trucker’s Lodge is 16lb higher in the weights than when runner-up in this 12 months ago, but I’m not completely ruling him out despite that hefty rise, which was largely the result of winning the Midlands National. He certainly won’t mind conditions and is currently 9/1, so will definitely be one I’m backing. However, at an even bigger price you have to give a squeak to Dominateur for Oliver Sherwood. This seven-year-old is pretty lightly raced and always threatened to come into his own in this type of race. He certainly comes alive at Chepstow in these types of conditions and will be better suited by these conditions than what he had at Sandown on his seasonal reappearance in a decent, small field, Intermediate chase. He doesn’t look badly handicapped either and at 16/1 I’m happy to have him as my each-way play.

The Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle was won in devastating fashion by Allmankind 12 months ago and we may see something similar from Gary Moore’s Nassalam, albeit he’s a short price to win the race. He looks potentially top-class having won both his UK starts at Fontwell and whilst he doesn’t look the most straightforward ride, that didn’t stop Goshen or Allmankind last season. He’s 8/11 favourite to back that up on Sunday. I’m a fan of Adagio too though and if he runs I might be tempted to take the favourite on, particularly as David Pipe’s horse is 5/1 with Sky Bet.

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Kempton serves up its tasty festive treat on Boxing Day with the King George VI Chase the feature. Sadly, Monalee won’t be able to line up for Henry de Bromhead due to Covid travel restrictions, but there is still a quality field set to go to post headed by 2018 and 2019 winner Clan Des Obeaux, who is Sky Bet’s 13/8 favourite at the time of writing. Stablemate Cyrname is at 15/8.

Incidentally, Sky Bet have voided several bets on Irish trained runners due to the travel issues as a gesture of goodwill, so all is not lost if you backed Monalee ante-post. Santini was a surprise addition to the field with Nicky Henderson sending his Gold Cup runner-up to one of the trainer’s favourite racecourses, but will it be one of Santini’s favourite tracks, that’s my concern. He’s a 6/1 shot.

I’m still waiting for Lostintranslation to return to something like his best. I adore this horse, but trainer Colin Tizzard just can’t find any consistent form with his horses this season. Having said that, there have been some chinks of light for the yard and I’m loath to leave this lad out of calculations. Lostintranslation was said to be suffering from a breathing problem when he disappointed in this race last year and he has since had a wind operation.

Having said that, it would take a level of bravery to pile in with him given the negatives, so I’m going to side with Cyrname, who can give Paul Nicholls his 12th (yes 12th!) King George. He was slammed by his stable companion last year, but that wasn’t his true running and he’s started his campaign well with a comfortable victory in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.

Also at Kempton I’m really looking forward to seeing the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase with a quality entry at this stage for the three-mile Grade 1. I’m leaning towards If The Cap Fits for in-form trainer Harry Fry. It was fascinating to watch his chasing debut at Ffos Las in October because after a ponderous start, he really warmed to the task and looked scopey and athletic by the end of the race. He bombed out at Sandown last time out, but I’m prepared to forgive him that as Sandown can be tricky for a novice chaser and his future remains bright over fences. He’s 7/2 with Sky Bet to get back to winning ways.

It should be a walk in the Kempton Park for Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle after her classy win in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last time out, but she’s very short. The same comments apply to Shishkin in Sunday’s Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase. He’s a joy to watch, so sit back and relax and enjoy these sublime racehorses in action. Speaking of which, their trainer Nicky Henderson has plenty to look forward to with Altior also set to reappear on Sunday in the Desert Orchid Chase.

Despite the global pandemic and racing’s 11 week shutdown, Hollie Doyle has had the year of her life. I’m just back from a day trip to Lingfield where I did a sit down interview with racing’s star jockey and you can look forward to that detailed insight into her life on Sky Sports Main Event on December 28. It was wonderful to see her finish 3rd in SPOTY and then reach that 150 winner target for the year at Lingfield on Tuesday.

She is an incredible athlete and a superb role model. One of Hollie’s wonderful characteristics is that what you see is what you get. Don’t be fooled, there’s a will of steel underneath that unassuming and humble exterior, but she’s totally without ego, which is a rare quality in this day and age.

I hope you enjoy the feature and it hopefully comes at the perfect time, when you are sick of Christmas movies! Have the best Christmas you are able and I’ll see you at Chepstow on the 27th. Sending love to you all and don’t forget to keep in touch on social media if you are feeling glum (or just want to chat racing) over Christmas.

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