Kempton Park stages another super day of action on the second and final day of its Christmas meeting, with a pair of Grade 2 contests the highlight.
First up comes the 32Red.com Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase over two miles.
Altior heads the field and is a hugely exciting recruit to the chasing ranks this winter, having proven a champion novice hurdler last term. The Nicky Henderson trained 6 year old was a Grade 2 winner on this corresponding card last year and went on to win the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, beating Min by 7 lengths. He could easily have stuck to hurdling and a bid for the Champion Hurdle so his involvement here is fascinating. Altior made a very satisfactory introduction over fences when beating his sole rival Black Corton by 63 lengths with a decent round of jumping at Kempton Park a couple of weeks ago. He took the step up to Grade 1 level in his stride in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park in early December, powering to a 6 length victory over Charbel and he sets the standard here.
Marracudja was another useful novice hurdler who won twice at Wincanton last winter, and has made a super start to life over fences. The Paul Nicholls trained 5 year old got off the mark with an impressive 9 lengths defeat of Ballybolley on his chasing debut at Newton Abbot in September. A month later he made it two from two with a neck victory over Presenting Arms at Cheltenham. However, he proved disappointing in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park in early December, fading to finish 22 lengths last of 4 behind Altior.
Zigger Zagger showed signs of ability over fences when trained in Ireland, but faces a tough task here. The 7 year old placed in two of his three starts over fences in Ireland, most recently when 1 ¼ lengths third of 12 behind Sister Annie at Downpatrick in September 2015. He was not seen out again until finishing a tailed off 14th of 16 behind Fort Carson in a handicap hurdle at Exeter in late April, on his debut for trainer Richard Rowe. The following month he finished 19 ½ lengths fifth of 7 to Keppel Isle in a novices’ handicap chase at Kempton Park and he needs a lot more here.
Stephanie Frances is a vastly improved performer over fences this campaign, having endured disaster last winter. The Dan Skelton trained 8 year old mare fell on both starts in November 2015, before running 10 ½ lengths 8th of 19 behind Vroum Vroum Mag in the Grade 1 mares’ hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. She returned to chasing at Southwell in mid-August, getting off the mark with a 9 lengths defeat of Ballycamp. A week later she beat Theatre Flame by a beck at Worcester and in September she returned there to finish a head second d of 3 to Rejaah. Stephanie Frances got back to winning ways when landing a Listed mares’ hurdle at Wetherby in late October, beating Midnight Jazz by ½ a length. She added a Listed mares’ novice chase at Bangor the following month with an impressive 9 lengths victory over Presenting Lisa. This is much tougher but she is clearly in fine form.
Mrsrobin has won once from 17 career starts, including 11 over fences and looks hopelessly outclassed here.
After the novice chasers come the established stars in the Grade 2 32Red Desert Orchid Chase over two miles, remembering the brilliant grey who won the King George VI Chase on four occasions and made Kempton Park his own.
Former Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy was back to somewhere near his best last season at times, including when landing his second Tingle Creek Chase. The Gary Moore trained 10 year old was the star of the two mile division three seasons ago, embarking on a campaign yielding five successive victories, including the Tingle Creek Chase and Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2014. However, in the summer of 2014 he had an operation which kept him off the track for the first half of the winter. He was not the force of old the following season and again ran a lack lustre race when 39 lengths last of 5 to Vibrato Valtat in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last November. However, he was somewhere close to his best in the Tingle Creek Chase in December, showing his old fire to take up the running from Special Tiara leaving the back straight. There was drama at the last fence though as Sire De Grugy jumped to his left, across Special Tiara and baulking and colliding with his rival, who stayed on up the hill to reduce the advantage to ¾ of a length at the line. Amid much controversy, Sire De Grugy kept the race following a prolonged Stewards’ Enquiry. Over Christmas he headed to Kempton Park for a colossal clash with the rejuvenate Sprinter Sacre in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase. The former champions served up a real treat as they slugged it out over the last three fences up the Kempton Park straight and a slight error at the last fence might have cost Sire De Grugy vital momentum as his rival got the upper hand by ¾ of a length. The following month he ran a solid race but appeared beaten on merit by Un De Sceaux in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase, finishing 5 lengths second of 5 to the Irish horse. The ground went somewhat against Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham and he ran a disappointing race in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, coming home a tailed off 8th of 10 behind Sprinter Sacre. He ran better in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown Park in late April, but was still 27 lengths adrift of Sprinter Sacre, finishing fourth of 6 to the Champion. He returned over a longer trip in the Listed Old Roan Chase at Aintree in late October, but ran a disappointing race, dropping away to finish 19 lengths last of 7 behind Third Intention. Once again though, he defied his critics with an amazing performance in a competitive handicap chase at Ascot in late November, defying top weight to beat Quite By Chance by 1 ½ lengths, with a super round of jumping and his old effervescence restored. In early December he put up a tremendous performance in his bid to secure a third Tingle Creek Chase, heading Un De Sceaux after the final fence, before that rival battled back on the climb to the finish, to beat Sire De Grugy by a length.
Savello hit a real high point when landing the Grand Annual Chase in 2014, beating Ned Buntline by 1 ¼ lengths. The 10 year old took on the very best for most of the following season before heading to the sales and switching from Tony Martin to Dan Skelton, for whom he made his debut over hurdles at Cheltenham in October 2015, running 7 ¼ lengths fourth of 11 to Old Guard. The following month he ran on well in the latter stages to finish 16 ½ lengths third of 6 to Sprinter Sacre in the Shloer Chase at the same course. His latest start came over hurdles in a competitive handicap at Sandown Park in early December; he ran really well to finish 7 ½ lengths fourth of 10 to the tough Lil Rockerfeller. After a break he returned to action in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase in February but pulled up. However, he ran a cracker in the Grand Annual Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, finishing 6 lengths fourth of 24 to Solar Impulse. In early April he landed a value prize at Kelso when defeating Dormello Mo by 5 lengths. His next start came in a hurdle race at Auteuil in late May, when he finished 13 ½ lengths fourth of 17 behind Solonder. After a break Savello returned at Cheltenham in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase in November, finishing a tailed off 7th (and last of the finishers) behind Fox Norton. The following month he was back there in a handicap chase but took a crashing fall.
Sir Valentino landed a hat-trick of chase victories last autumn before being fully exposed when 27 lengths last of 5 to Sprinter Sacre in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park last Christmas. The Tom George trained 7 year old dropped markedly in class thereafter and ran 7 lengths second of 6 to Gardefort in a Wetherby handicap chase in January, before finishing 12 lengths fifth of 10 to Dandridge at Doncaster, later that month. In mid-May he landed a handicap chase at Market Rasen by 8 lengths from Turn Over Sivola and the following month was 9 ½ lengths fourth of 9 to Byron Flyer in a Worcester handicap hurdle. His latest start came in the valuable Listed Summer Plate at Market Rasen in July, when he came home 35 lengths 8th of 16 to Long House Hall. He showed huge improvement on his return to action, winning the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in early November by a short head from Garde La Victoire. That saw Sir Valentino earn a crack at the Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park in early December and he was far from disgraced in finishing 5 ½ lengths fifth of 6 to Un De Sceaux.
Special Tiara showed his prowess when landing the 2014 Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park with a bold front-running display and some spectacular leaps. He deployed similar tactics in the Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March 2015 – and they nearly paid off, as he succumbed only in the latter stages, finishing a brilliant 3 lengths third to Dodging Bullets against the elite from the two mile division. Henry de Bromhead’s 9 year old was again scintillating in Sandown Park’s Grade 1 Celebration Chase in late April, beating Sprinter Sacre by 6 lengths and returned to action in the Grade 2 Fortria Chase at Navan in early November, but struggled with the rain softened ground and faded to finish a tailed off fourth of 6 to Hidden Cyclone. Special Tiara has proved he likes Sandown Park and ran a super race in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase last December. He was hampered by the mistake of Sire De Grugy at the final fence and closed his rival down on the run-in to go down to a controversial ¾ of a length defeat. He was not seen out again until the Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase, when he took on Un De Sceaux for the lead and perhaps softened his rival up for Sprinter Sacre, before staying on in the closing stages to finish 3 ½ lengths third of 10, but beaten just a nose by Un De Sceaux. Special Tiara then headed to Punchestown for the Grade 1 BoyleSports Champion Chase in late April, but ran a rare poor race to finish 21 lengths 6th of 7 to God’s Own. He returned to action in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in mid-November, but the rain-softened ground did not really suit him and he came home 18 lengths third of 8 to Fox Norton.