That’s the word that perfectly encapsulates what we can expect at the vast majority of Boxing/St Stephen’s Day’s 11 remaining scheduled turf fixtures, with only Leopardstown reporting Soft going for one of the major days in their calendar.
As for the remainder, if they all survive to welcome the bank holiday crowds then Down Royal, Ffos Las, Fontwell, Kempton Park, Limerick, Market Rasen, Sedgefield, Towcester, Wincanton and Wetherby are all set to race on predominately Heavy ground, a determining factor which could make or break many a punting strategy over the festive period.
Chepstow’s Welsh National card has already had to be shunted back nine days from its slot on the 27th into the new year, such have been the monsoon like conditions which have left the track submerged in places, though reports that a dolphin was sighted jumping the last flight of hurdles on Christmas Eve are yet to be confirmed.
I’ll be hopping on the first flight over to Ireland for the full four day festive stretch in front of the RTE cameras at Leopardstown, and you can be absolutely certain the Dublin track will be rocking for the entire Christmas meeting.
Their’s isn’t the easiest card to unravel on Wednesday, but back in the UK there are some tempting looking openings for a wager, not least at West Wales track Ffos Las, as long as another deluge don’t leave them needing dinghies to get from the paddock to the weighing room.
Make no mistake, it is going to be bottomless there, so much so that I wouldn’t rule out a north sea rig being installed midway through the afternoon, following the lucky discovery of a few barrels worth of crude oil under the back straight!
As long as it does survive (no inspection planned) I will definitely be helping myself to a slice of the price on offer about David Pipe’s delightfully handicapped seven year old Beneficial gelding Kusadasi in the second race on the card – the Walters UK Handicap Hurdle – at 1.10pm.
Yet to really show his form over here since making the switch from Irish trainer Dusty Sheehy back in the spring, this is a horse who has seen his handicap mark tumble quicker than Ashley Young in the penalty area in recent times, meaning that having begun his career over here off a mark of 129, he now gets to compete off just 96.
Most encouragingly this is a horse who has won on Heavy before now, and also has several pleasing runs on testing going in the book.
He bounced back to form last time out when second to Bathwick Brave at Uttoxeter over five furlongs further, the form of which looks okay given how well Bathwick Brave then ran when second in a stronger race at Aintree.
His front running tactics will be ideal for Ffos Las, and a positive ride on this ground can help offset the drop in trip to two miles.
Judging by the ride he gave Home Run when winning at Taunton 13 days ago young Kieron Edgar is cracking value for his 10lb claim, and that also means a more than acceptable racing weight of 11 stone.
Quapriland looks to be the danger amongst his nine rivals, but it’s totally unclear how he’ll handle the ground, so stick with mud-lover Kusadasi to get the day off to a flying start.
Remaining at Ffos Las, another who’s been there and done it where Heavy ground in Ireland is concerned is Evan Williams in-form five year old Firebird Flyer, who lines up under top weight in the 0-120 Cotts Farm Equine Hospital Handicap Hurdle at 2.20pm.
A recent second at Chepstow and January’s Maiden Hurdle win at Tramore suggest he won’t turn at hair at the sight of a bit of mud – indeed Williams has only had him this season, with three runs culminating in a win over fences at Ludlow most recently.
It makes perfect sense to return to the smaller obstacles, given that he’s six pounds better off in this discipline (a mark of 119 as opposed to 125).
What’s more, second placed Ballyoliver franked the Ludlow form when subsequently scoring at Newbury, and with conditions favourable we can expect a big run from Firebird Flyer.
The Channel 4 cameras will be garrisoned at a sure to be packed out Kempton Park, where they get going at 12.50pm with a top quality two mile Novices’ Hurdle.
A 33/1 shot for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in March Nicky Henderson’s River Maigue will be all the rage for this one, after finding only Dodging Bullets too good on his hurdling debut at Cheltenham 40 days ago.
There’s also John Ferguson’s Champion Bumper second New Year’s Eve, as well as the hugely talented Spirit Of Shankly.
It’s a hot race alright, but one who might have been overlooked at big odds given how testing the ground will ride is Gary Moore’s Flat recruit Asker.
A thunderstorm on Christmas morning saw the ground changed to officially Heavy, and that could well lead to an upset or two, though given his proven ability to handle deep ground it’d be no great surprise were Asker to plough through the mud and claim a couple of notable scalps.
Formerly with Marcus Tregoning, this is a horse who twice own on Heavy going last summer.
A switch to Gary Moore will mean he’ll have been expertly prepared and schooled for this debut over timber, and with 2008 Gold Cup winning jockey Sam Thomas booked to take the ride we can be confident he won’t lack for guidance in the saddle.
At 10/1 on this kind of ground Asker is worth a flutter each way on his hurdling debut, especially as he’s bred to be a hurdler and also has a bumper win in the bag under AP McCoy towards the end of 2011.
There is of course also the small matter of the William Hill King George VI Chase, with Kempton’s feature coming to the boil at 3.10pm.
There’ll be no Kauto Star this year, but we should still be in for a treat courtesy of 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run and co, who also took this very race two seasons ago.
Second to Kauto on this day last season, it’s hard to say exactly what it is that has meant Long Run hasn’t quite been hitting the bullseye, but Sam Waley-Cohen’s mount has only won once in 21 months since his Gold Cup triumph, though he has maintained a very high level of form.
Even so, whether it’s the hard race typically involved in winning a Gold Cup or something else, I’m totally against the idea of backing Long Run at no bigger than 2/1.
He was no match for Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park, and this is another blistering hot race.
Cue Card will be a threat if his stamina holds up, The Giant Bolster has to be a live danger given how he finished in front of Long Run in the Gold Cup, plus Grands Crus could easily improve following an operation to help his breathing.
However, to my eyes the biggest danger to Long Rn lurks within his own stable, in the shape of tough as nails Kempton specialist Riverside Theatre.
Five career starts at Kempton Park have yielded an extraordinary four wins, and the only occasion he didn’t win was when second to Long Run in this race!
Riverside Theatre is frighteningly consistent, travels powerfully on Soft ground, wins first time out, and has Barry Geraghty on his back.
Rated just two pounds inferior to his illustrious stablemate, he has to be value at 11/2.
The obvious question is stamina and his ability to see out a fast run three miles, but I’d counter that by suggesting he’s an older and more mature horse now, plus he sees out 2m 5f at Cheltenham without a bother.
If he can do the same here then the King George is there for the taking.
Good luck & a very Happy Christmas!
Wednesday’s best bets:
12.50 Kempton Park – William Hill No.1 Downloaded Betting App Novices’ Hurdle – 2 Asker (each way) @ 10/1 (Bet365, BetVictor, Paddy Power or Stan James)
1.10 Ffos Las – Walters UK Handicap Hurdle – 3 Kusadasi (win)
2.20 Ffos Las – Cotts Farm Equine Hospital Handicap Hurdle – 1 Firebird Flyer (win)
3.10 Kempton Park – William Hill King George VI Chase – 9 Riverside Theatre (win) @ 11/2 (Betfred or Coral)
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