The defection of Thistlecrack has made the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase the most interesting Grade 1 prospect for punters on Boxing Day (2.05pm, Kempton, live on Channel 4). The Irish raider Anibale Fly heads the betting market at 9/4 but there are reasons to oppose him.
Owned by JP McManus, this six-year-old is obviously talented, winning five of his ten runs to date, including the Coral Handicap Hurdle at Punchestown in April. Anibale Fly won his first outing over fences in November and was last seen finishing second, beaten two lengths, in a Grade 1 novices’ chase at Fairyhouse in early December. The race was won by the relatively unfancied 8/1 shot, Coney Island, in McManus’ second colours. There was plenty of pace on and both Anibale Fly and the winner were ridden patiently over the two and a half miles on good to yielding ground.
This will be Anibale Fly’s first attempt at three miles but his winning form over slightly shorter trips on testing ground suggests that the extra distance should not trouble him. A more significant concern is the likely conditions. As a son of Assessor, he may not enjoy the quickest ground he has ever encountered at Kempton.
His trainer Tony Martin is a force to be reckoned with, especially in valuable handicaps, but the yard is not exactly flying. Martin has a strike rate of 5% over obstacles at home this season. One of his seven raiders in England this term has scored but his three runners in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle (formerly the Ladbroke Hurdle) could only bag minor place money and they included the 4/1 favourite. Anibale Fly might live up to his name but, bred to enjoy mud, he holds no appeal at his current price.
Paul Nicholls thinks that his second favourite Frodon (7/2) handles testing conditions well too. He was last seen winning the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Cheltenham just over a fortnight ago. That was over two miles five furlongs on soft ground.
This is a pretty swift turnaround for a four-year-old and Nicholls admits that this race is a bit of ‘afterthought’ but is letting Frodon take his chance as he appears to be on great form at home, bucking and squealing in a recent schooling session. Frodon has won twice on good ground suggesting that it does not inconvenience him. He is another runner having his first attempt at three miles but his unexpected win last time suggested that he is not short of stamina.
Frodon will be ridden by Nicholls’ number one stable jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies (pictured), who has won on him three times before. Rated 5lb higher than the field and benefiting from a handy 7lb age allowance, the partnership has to have very realistic expectations of gaining their fourth victory here. So he is certainly on this Kauto Star Novices Chase preview’s shortlist as a likely betting tip.
Jack Sherwood partners the Nicholls second-string, Present Man (6/1). This six-year-old has won three of his four starts this term under Sherwood and the consensus at Ditcheat is that he is improving with every run. Their only failure to score occurred when Present Man blundered badly and unseated Sherwood at the second fence at Wincanton in early November. Present Man was last seen winning the Grade 2 Bet365 December Novices’ Chase (run over three miles) at Doncaster from the front, beating Lucy Wadham’s Potters Legend nearly two lengths. The odds-on favourite, Nicky Henderson’s O O Seven failed to fire.
This son of Presenting, like most of his offspring, likes decent ground and should get it here. He is proven over this distance and, jumping to the right when winning last time out, should enjoy his first visit to Kempton which is right-handed. He has to have decent each-way claims.
Another interesting contender is Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite (6/1). This seven-year-old son of Scorpion out of a Presenting dam appeared on a racecourse for the first time as a six-year-old. He was a beaten favourite on his debut in a bumper in January last year but subsequently redeemed himself by winning two hurdle races. In November 2015 he tried fences for the first time and struggled with them, blundering and nearly unseating Nico de Boinville, and was beaten 13 lengths by More Of That.
After a four month absence Might Bite reappeared at this course over hurdles. For once he was not fancied and was sent off at 8/1 but romped home, winning by eight lengths. This season he was sent off as the odds-on favourite on his debut at Ffos Las in a novices’ chase in November. His jumping was not always fluent and he was beaten four lengths. Might Bite was an odds-on favourite again in a two mile three furlong novices’ chase at Doncaster in early December, he duly made all and beat nothing by 14 lengths, only testing the strength of the second last fence under Daryl Jacob. This will be Might Bite’s first try at three miles but he shares a rating of 148 with the favourite and, if his jumping holds up, could reward his followers at a decent price.
His six-year-old stablemate Caracci Apache (33/1) is proven over the trip, winning a three mile Grade 2 novices’ hurdle at Doncaster in January 2015, beating Blaklion a head. He has not won since, often spoiling his chances by pulling too hard. Caracci Apache ran on the flat in July and September, presumably to educate him, and then tried fences for the second time a fortnight ago. He pulled pretty hard under David Bass but was still going well when he fell at the 11th.
Noel Fehily partners him for the first time here and, if he manages to get him settled, Caracci Apache could put in a better performance than his starting price suggests.
Peter Bowen’s Minella Daddy (8/1) is a much more reliable performer, posting two wins in three mile chases since he swapped cheekpieces for blinkers in October. This six-year-old was last seen getting beaten nearly two lengths by Regal Encore in the Silver Cup Handicap Chase, just nine days ago at Ascot. His mark has risen from 130 to 145 this term, putting him right in the mix but the rapid turnaround has to be a concern.
Blinkers are being tried for the first time on Colin Tizzard’s Royal Vacation (40/1). This son of King’s Theatre finished third, beaten nearly seven lengths in a Grade 2 at Ascot on 16 December, carrying the blue and pink colours of Jean Bishop. Currently rated 131, and possibly still feeling the effects of that effort, the blinkers are going to have work wonders for him to reach the frame in this company.
A much fresher contender is Amore Alato (10/1). He was very unlucky not to score last season, unseating Harry Skelton at the last when looking the likely winner of a Grade 2 chase at Ascot a year ago, and twice finishing as the runner-up. This seven-year-old successfully stepped up to three miles for his only outing this season at Sandown in November. Ridden by Richard Johnson for the first time, he jumped boldly and accurately, beating Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Ballybolley seven lengths.
Johnny Farrelly may well have had this race in mind for him since and, although he has plenty to find on ratings, Amore Alato will be the freshest horse in the line-up. Amore Alato has run at Kempton twice, winning a novice hurdle and finishing second to Irving in a Grade 2. Johnson takes the ride and must be hoping to gain place money at least.
Another seven-year-old is Dan Skelton’s Virgilio (12/1) who is untested over this trip. We last saw him beaten 10 lengths by Clan Des Obeaux in a Grade 2 at Newbury in late November, jumping unconvincingly. In his previous run in a similar affair at Wincanton his jumping fell apart and he was pulled up. Rated just 2lb below the favourite, Virgilio ought to be competitive if he gets the trip but Dan’s brother Harry will have to make sure he gets him jumping fluently.
Our Preview’s Kauto Star Novices’ Chase Betting Tip Verdict
This looks a fairly open race and Anibale Fly is an unappealing favourite on decent ground. There are rapid reappearance concerns with a number of runners but Nicholls’ insistence that FRODON is on good form is convincing enough for him to be this preview’s Kauto Star Novices Chase betting tip. He is not only rated 5lb higher than the field but benefits from a 7lb allowance for his age, back him to win, best-priced at 7/2 with Bet365, Betfred or Coral.
Fiona Derek is our Reality TV and horse racing expert. The only time you won’t find her riding or mucking out a racehorse is when she is watching Reality TV or racing on the box.