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Christmas Highlights: Festive crackers looming large

Racing has been going through a rather uncertain spell with the freezing weather causing havoc of late, but it should all have passed over by the time the major Christmas schedule is due.

Kempton Park, Chepstow and Leopardstown will play host to some massive Grade 1 contests, including the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day and the Welsh Grand National 24 hours later.

We have taken a look at how some of the big festive races are shaping up for next week, all of which can be followed via our live Sports Streaming Service.

Nicholls hoping to be King at Kempton again

The main event over the festive period is the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, a race some believe is the ultimate test of a staying chaser.

The likes of Desert Orchid and Kauto Star are names so famously associated with the Christmas showpiece, having combined to win it nine times, and Paul Nicholls – trainer of the latter – will be seeking a record-extending 13th win on 26th December.

His Bravemansgame is 13/8 favourite having won the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase on his comeback in October, while another Nicholls inmate, Hitman, is in the mix at 7/2 alongside stablemate and 2021 winner Frodon at 16/1.

The champion trainer confirmed recently that stable jockey Harry Cobden will be riding Bravemansgame, with Sam Twiston-Davies picking up the ride on Hitman and regular partner Bryony Frost maintaining her alliance with Frodon.

Nicholls believes the market has it right and makes Bravemansgame his number-one choice, though he reckons that Hitman is a player too.

"They'll all be trained to run to their very best on the day, nobody gets favouritism and they'll all run on their merit," he said at a media day organised by the Jockey Club.

"It's nice to have horses to run at that level and we can't be having any ducking and diving. You've got to run them, I'd be delighted if any of them win. We're very happy with the three we've got. I'd say Bravemansgame probably deserves, just about, to be favourite. He won at this track last year and seems progressive."

Venetia Williams' L'homme Presse is 9/4 after a convincing Rehearsal Chase win at Newcastle on comeback, while hopes of a second successive Irish-trained winner look set to be carried by 7/1 Envoi Allen, winner of last month's Grade 1 Champion Chase at Down Royal over this three-mile distance.

Constitution Hill to dazzle again

Also on the Boxing Day menu at Kempton is the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle, where 1/3 ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill is aiming next.

Nicky Henderson's unbeaten hurdler looked magnificent in his return in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and will aim to double up his tally for the season here. It's hard to see anything troubling him if he gets around in one piece but it is another chance to see the most exciting and talked-about jumps horse in training and that is not to be missed.

Henderson has won the race a record ten times already and the Seven Barrows chief could also send 2019 & 2021 winner Epatante here after her International Hurdle target at Cheltenham was lost to frost.

Constitution Hill will be the star turn however and will be expected to dazzle as bright as any Christmas lights.

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Quick Wave popular for Chepstow showpiece

The Venetia Williams-trained Quick Wave is the 9/2 market leader for the Welsh National at Chepstow on 27th December following an ultra-impressive win at Sandown on Tingle Creek day.

He barely came off the bridle under Charlie Deutsch that afternoon and though he's now rated 149, he can take his chance in the most valuable race run in Wales off a 9lb lower mark.

The Welsh National is a gruelling test often run on testing ground and while it might seem a risky place to be getting involved with a short-price favourite, the recent history books show that Native River (11/4), Elegant Escape (3/1) and Secret Reprieve (5/2) have all rewarded their backers with victories.

Secret Reprieve, successful in this in 2020 (race actually run in January '21) might also be working his way towards a big run for the shrewd Evan Williams and is in the market at 16/1 while Peter Fahey's The Big Dog is 13/2 and was earmarked for this contest after his Troytown win at Navan.

Bob Olinger aims for emotional Leopardstown win

Leopardstown also boasts some high-class action at their Christmas Festival, which runs for four days from 26th December – St Stephen's Day as it is known on the Emerald Isle.

On day three at the Dublin venue, there will be a hugely emotional running of their Christmas Hurdle, this year to be titled the Jack de Bromhead Christmas Hurdle in memory of the talented youngster that tragically lost his life in a pony racing accident in September.

His father Henry is of course a household name in National Hunt circles and he'll be very keen to land this contest with 7/2 Bob Olinger.

He was claimed late on in last month's Lismullen Hurdle at Navan by Home By The Lee (6/1 for the Jack de Bromhead Christmas Hurdle), though it was Rachael Blackmore's partner that looked the likelier winner for much of the contest.

They may clash again now, while dual Cheltenham Stayers' Hurdle winner Flooring Porter will be aiming to rebound after a tame showing at Navan and win this race for the second time in three years for trainer Gavin Cromwell. He's priced at 11/4 here.

Last year's winner Klassical Dream – second in the Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse over shorter this month – could be a major contender too for Willie Mullins at 2/1 if he takes his chance in what is shaping up to be a real Christmas cracker of a contest.

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