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Festive Eye-Catchers - Top Five Christmas Winners

By Jon Vine
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30 Dec 2021
  • Our top five performances over a busy Christmas period of racing
  • Huge races took place at Kempton, Leopardstown, Limerick and Newbury over the last four days
  • We've listed five of the best performances at the major meetings
  • Stage Star, Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame feature in our list
Harry Cobden riding Bravemansgame clear the last to win The Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park. (Getty)
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Now that the deluge of Christmas racing has dried up, we've been able to assess all of the major racing that took place over the Festive period and viewers were treated to some truly superb performances.

Galvin announced himself as a genuine Gold Cup contender by nabbing A Plus Tard on the line to win the Savills Chase. Tornado Flyer swooped home from the rear to win the King George VI Chase, after the three Paul Nicholls horses cut each other's throats. 

Shishkin established his position at the head of the Champion Chase betting with an effortless reappearance win in the Desert Orchid. There was more joy for Nicky Henderson at Kempton too, as former Champion Hurdle winner Epatante returned to her finest form with an easy victory in the Christmas Hurdle.

Other notable winners to mention include Porticello, Klassical Dream, Sharjah, Mighty Potter and Master McShee, who all won Grade Ones over Christmas. Facile Vega, the first foal out of Cheltenham hero Quevega, looked a class above his rivals when bolting up in the bumper at Leopardstown on Boxing Day and he's certainly a name to follow throughout his career.

I've looked back through all of the major festive meetings and picked out my top five Christmas performances.

5. Stage Star

Stage Star2022 Ballymore Novices' HurdleGET 8/1 HERE
New customers only. 18+ T&Cs and wagering requirements apply.

STAGE STAR didn't beat anything of note in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury on Wednesday, but that doesn't take away from the performance he produced. Paul Nicholls' charge settled nicely behind the pace-setters, hitting the front on the run to the second-last before cantering to a seven-length win.

I like to use the stopwatch to analyse performances. I NAP'd Stage Star on Wednesday having compared his winning time at Newbury with Jonbon's debut win on the same card, and found that Stage Star was only half-a-second slower from the second-last to the line than the current Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite.

On Wednesday, Stage Star (11-7) was three seconds quicker from the second-last to the line than Dashel Drasher (11-12), who won a handicap over the same course-and-distance, albeit carrying five pounds more on his back. Harry Cobden's mount was also a second-and-a-half quicker than Grand Luna (11-8) and a full five seconds quicker than Peking Rose (11-5) over the same stretch of track, both of whom were running over a shorter trip. Nicholls clearly has a very talented novice on his hands.

stage star newbury
Harry Cobden riding Stage Star clear the last to win The MansionBet Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury. (Getty)

4. Sir Gerhard

Sir Gerhard2022 Supreme Novices' HurdleGET 5/1 HERE
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One of the best performances by a novice hurdler over Christmas came courtesy of SIR GERHARD. Willie Mullins' Champion Bumper winner made his hurdles debut over two miles at Leopardstown, powering home from the front to win by eight lengths.

In the very next race, Fil Dor (11-3) won the Frank Knight Juvenile Hurdle, run over the same trip. Gordon Elliott's Triumph Hurdle favourite carried nine pounds less on his back than Sir Gerhard (12-00) and didn't have to cut out his own running. Yet, the time of Sir Gerhard's race was six-and-a-half-seconds quicker than that Grade Two and Paul Townend's mount was a second-and-a-half quicker from the second-last to the line than Fil Dor.

After Kilcruit fell to a second-straight defeat, Sir Gerhard looks to have established himself as Willie Mullins' leading contender for this year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle. The likes of Jonbon and Constitution Hill could have their work cut out.

3. Galopin Des Champs

Galopin Des Champs2022 Festival Novices' ChaseGET 7/4 HERE
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For six months, I've been itching to see GALOPIN DES CHAMPS ping a fence and that moment finally arrived at Leopardstown on Tuesday. Willie Mullins' Grade One-winning novice hurdler was backed as if defeat was out of the question and Galopin Des Champs didn't disappoint, cruising to an effortless 22-length success. 

Blue Sari and Floueur clocked RPRs in the mid-140s on their own chasing debuts the previous month. Crosshill and Ain't That A Shame are half decent too. Yet, none of them could live with the pace Galopin Des Champs could jump and travel at. He turned that Beginners Chase into a glorified race-course gallop and Paul Townend really struggled to pull him up after crossing the line.

The Flogas Novices' Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival seems the next logical step for Galopin Des Champs, before going onto the Brown Advisory Chase at Cheltenham. After that sparkling chase debut, I won't be quick to side against him.

2. Bravemansgame

Bravemansgame2022 Festival Novices' ChaseGET 4/1 HERE
New customers only. 18+ T&Cs and wagering requirements apply.

There's a chance that Galopin Des Champs and BRAVEMANSGAME could clash before the end of the season - a showdown all National Hunt fans would love to see.

Paul Nicholls' budding star made it three-from-three over fences in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase. Ahoy Senor was backed against the favourite in the build-up and cut out the running, but his jumping wasn't nearly as accomplished as Bravemansgame and an eye-catching change of gear saw Harry Cobden's mount pull seven lengths clear on the run to the line.

Bravemansgame (11-7) was over four seconds quicker from the third-last to the line than King George VI Chase winner, Tornado Flyer (11-12). That won't come as a surprise, considering the way the King George was run and the weight differential. What did surprise me was that Bravemansgame was two-and-a-half seconds quicker from the third-last to the line than Jacamar (10-13) who appeared to fly home late to win a handicap chase over two-and-a-half miles. 

I doubt we'll see Bravemansgame at the Cheltenham Festival. Nicholls doesn't seem keen on the idea at all. What is clear is that Bravemansgame is an absolute weapon over fences and he'll be very hard to beat wherever he turns up next.

ferny hollow
Ferny Hollow (right) beating Appreciate It in the 2020 Champion Bumper. (Getty)

1. Ferny Hollow

Ferny Hollow2022 Arkle Challenge TrophyGET 2/1 HERE
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Although I was impressed with FERNY HOLLOW'S chase debut at Punchestown, I feared for Willie Mullins' novice in the Grade One at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. Riviere D'etel had looked a natural over fences on her three previous starts, winning Grade Two and Three races with ease, and Paul Townend's mount had to give 13 pounds to Gordon Elliott's four-year-old filly at the weights.

On her previous chase starts, Riviere D'etel has been allowed to dictate from the front. Despite the weights being against him, Townend decided to take his rival on from flag fall and took Ferny Hollow straight to the front. Ferny Hollow jumped better than Riviere D'etel throughout, and comfortably held his rival at arm's length on the run to the line to secure his first Grade One prize over obstacles. 

That was a mighty performance from a horse who was having just his third start over obstacles and missed almost the entirety of last season through injury. No disrespect to Edwardstone, who won again over Christmas, or any of the other runners in the Arkle betting, but I can't see any of them laying a glove on Ferny Hollow is Willie Mullins' star makes it to the Cheltenham Festival.

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