Kempton plays it cool over freeze

Clerk of course confident weather will relent in time for King George VI Chase
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The Independent Online

We in Britain really should be in our element. The weather is the prime topic of conversation and those who forecast it the target for angst. Remember that hurricane? For poor old Michael Fish, now read his former Beeb meteorologist colleague John Kettley, whose predictions that temperatures would rise at Haydock on Saturday morning failed to materialise as the track and its fences froze solid.

The situation that led to the abandonment of sport less than half an hour after it was supposed to begin was, the weatherman pleaded yesterday in his defence, all part of a conspiracy on the part of nature. If that is the case, then presumably Barney Clifford at Kempton and Tom Burke at Leopardstown are casting runes, inspecting their seaweed and looking to see who comes out of the door of the clock first.

Well-being of the principal protagonists for the four days of top-class racing in Britain and Ireland over the festive season apart, the prevailing Christmas-card landscapes mean that the staging of the meetings is actually the first concern. Kauto Star's tilt at a record fourth consecutive King George VI Chase on Boxing Day is 1-4 to take place as far as the leading betting exchange, Betfair, is concerned. But then Haydock was 1-100 to go ahead early on Saturday morning.

There was racing at Kempton yesterday, of the all-weather Flat variety, alongside the steeplechase track currently protected by frost covers and Clifford, director of racing at the Sunbury course, was optimistic about the show everyone wants to see. "The forecast is for temperatures of -3C every night up to Christmas Eve," he said, "and up to C during the day. Then there should be a milder front in on Christmas Day. And we could have raced on the grass today, which is encouraging."

Over in Ireland, the weather has been less severe and his counterpart Burke is more confident than optimistic about prospects for Leopardstown's four-day festival. "Looking good," he reported yesterday. "It's been cold but we've avoided all the frost and snow that's been around. And the temperature should rise later in the week."

One of the highlights at the Co Dublin track is undoubtedly going to be the novices' chase on the first day of the meeting, known locally as St Stephen's Day. The Grade One contest will bring together three former top-class hurdlers – Osana, Sizing Europe and Captain Cee Bee – whose collective record in their first season over fences reads ran six, won six. And whoever wins on Saturday will put down the definitive marker for the Arkle Trophy, the two-mile novices championship race.

All three have previous at the Cheltenham Festival. Osana beat all bar Katchit in the Champion Hurdle last year, a race for which Sizing Europe started favourite and will be remembered, with anguish by some, for the ease with which he was cruising between the last two obstacles and his sudden eclipse. Captain Cee Bee led home a vintage field for the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the same meeting.

Osana was trained in his hurdling days by David Pipe but has since joined Edward O'Grady in Co Tipperary, and is two for two over fences, first defeating a subsequent winner (Roberto Goldback) and then a previous one (Dancing Tornado). But O'Grady is realistic, rather than definitive, about the seven-year-old's prospects. "On the bare bones of the form," he said, "Sizing Europe is the best one around. But it's nice to have had ours franked and we'll have a go."

O'Grady has ruled one of his senior stars, Tranquil Sea, whose defeats of Joncol and Poquelin this season could hardly read better, out of the three-mile Lexus Chase at Leopardstown a week today, opting instead for the two-mile Grade One contest the previous afternoon. "I think he'll get the longer trips in a year's time," he said, "when Kauto Star and Denman are a year older. But not yet."

Voy Por Ustedes, one of the British-trained entries for the Lexus, was confirmed as a likely starter yesterday for the Irish equivalent of the King George. "He's better left-handed," said owner Sir Robert Ogden's racing manager Barry Simpson of the Alan King-trained eight-year-old, "and he's 80-20 to go to Leopardstown rather than Kempton."

Turf Account: Sue Montgomery

Nap: Galaxy Rock (2.10 Ffos Las)

Produced enough on his seasonal debut to show he can win this term and should appreciate the drop in class after being highly tried on his last two outings.

Next best I Confess (2.30 Kempton)

Has run into an improver the last couple of outings and, although yet to score on the all-weather away from Lingfield, is on a favourable mark. His stable is in red-hot form.

One to watch Overlaw (T R George) was beaten a long way by a well-handicapped winner on his debut for his current yard but had travelled well until some late mistakes and should find an opportunity off his unrevised rating.

Where the money's going Paddy Power reports Grand National support for Tricky Trickster, 20-1 to 14-1.

Chris McGrath's Nap Peponi (2.00 Kempton)