Christmas Hurdle (Kempton) Betting Tips & Predictions – Wednesday 26th December 2018

Boxing Day is full of racing excitement across the country but one of the standout events without question is the Christmas Hurdle. The high class contest takes part at Kempton Park on the opening day of its well-attended two-day Winer Festival.

The race forms the middle leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling. Last season, Buveur d’Air became only the second horse ever to claim victory in all three legs. He looks to stand every chance of a second consecutive crown too, with no rival currently as his level and one of the three already in the bag.

Top Tips

Buveur D’Air @ 1/4

Odds correct at time of writing but may have changed since. Check site for latest prices.

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Race Info

Strong performers in this race are likely to find themselves featuring in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. 10 of the last 16 Christmas Hurdle winners went on to run in March’s elite race with two of them (Faugheen & Buveur D’Air) ending up victorious.

GoingDistanceClassPrize MoneyRunnersEW Terms
Good to soft 2m 1 £130,000 8 1/4 1-2

Recent Winners

The betting has been a giveaway for this race in recent years with all of the last nine winners either the favourite or second favourite. Nicky Henderson is the leading trainer in the race having saddled the Christmas Hurdle winner seven times. The 68-year-old will fancy his chances of extending this fine record too as last year’s champion, Buveur d’Air, is the overwhelming favourite to defend his title.

YearWinnerSPTrainerJockey
2017 Buveur d’Air 2/11 Nicky Henderson Barry Geraghty
2016 Yanworth 5/4 Alan King Barry Geraghty
2015 Faugheen 1/4 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
2014 Faugheen 4/11 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
2013 My Tent Or Yours 11/8 Nicky Henderson A P McCoy

Analysis: Buveur d’Air the horse to beat

There’s no questioning that Buveur d’Air is worthy of his position as the odds-on favourite in this race. His 1/4 price reflects his strength and suggests it will require a monumental effort to beat him. No horse has beaten the Nicky Henderson runner over hurdles since Altior and Min in 2016.

Most capable of pulling off an upset, according to the bookies, is second favourite Verdana Blue (11/2). For the first time this Wednesday she’ll take on her stablemate over the hurdles. The mare had the beating of If The Cap Fits (9/1) earlier in the season but did wind up behind Old Guard (20/1) at Cheltenham last month.

Elite Hurdle win gives Verdana Blue a sliver of hope

There was nothing too impressive about Verdana Blue’s hurdle record until her fine Elite Hurdle victory at Wincanton last month. The mare convincingly saw off the challenge of If The Cap Fits and We Have a Dream as she secured her first Grade 2 victory. Getting caught in traffic during last month’s Greatwood Handicap Hurdle denied her the chance of building on her previous success. She’s tended to underperform in larger fields but with little risk of being blocked in this Wednesday, a decent showing cannot be ruled out.

If The Cap Fits after more Winter Festival success

During his novice season, If The Cap Fits won of all of his three starts including one here at Kempton Park 12 months ago. Harry Fry’s horse was the favourite for the Winter Festival curtain raiser and he did not fail to disappoint, winning the Class 2 race with some ease. He only made his reappearance 319 days later so his defeat to Verdana Blue at Wincanton can be excused. There were signs of him getting back to his best at Ascot a fortnight later when winning the Coral Hurdle. Although a good performance from the six-year-old, he’s yet to suggest he’s close to the level of Buveur d’Air.

Buveur d’Air appears unstoppable

Verdana Blue has shown a good deal of ability this season but it’s highly unlikely she’ll ever be as formidable as stablemate Buveur d’Air. The French-bred horse showed no ill-effects from his wind surgery as he impressively defended his Fighting Fifth Hurdle crown. That win made it 11 from 12 over hurdles and with a record like this you have to question how can he be stopped. The only time he’s really been made to work in the last two years was during the most recent Champion Hurdle renewal. Melon pushed the favourite all the way that day but Buveur d’Air somehow managed to find that extra gear nobody else had.

Final Verdict: Buveur d’Air to win

There’s very little to indicate the favourite will suffer a rare defeat in this race. Those at the head of the market have fared well in the Christmas Hurdle and few have been as formidable as Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old. After beginning the latest season in such style, he’s a safe selection to secure more Boxing Day success.

About the Christmas Hurdle: A Quality Christmas Jumper

Horses racing at Kempton Park
Ben, flickr

It really is a Christmas cracker of a meeting at Kempton Park each Boxing Day with no fewer than three Grade 1 contests on offer. The first of the bunch – and the only one of the day to take place over the smaller obstacles – is the ever popular Christmas Hurdle.

A Handicap Reborn as a Grade 1

First run at the track in 1969, the Christmas Hurdle is effectively an upgrade of a handicap contest which took place at the venue earlier in the 1960’s before being disbanded in 1967.

Now a Grade 1 affair open to horses aged four and older, and held over the Champion Hurdle distance of two miles, the race attracts a similarly high class field to the Cheltenham showpiece. Together with the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle itself, the Christmas Hurdle makes up what some refer to as hurdling’s Triple Crown. Between the years of 2006 and 2010, there was a whopping £1 million bonus on offer to any runner who managed to win all three races.

Redevelopment and Frost The Only Interruptions

Every edition of this race to date has taken place at its Kempton Park home, with just the one exception. Due to a redevelopment of the facilities at Kempton in 2005 the race took place at nearby Sandown Park that year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering this race is held in Britain in the middle of winter, the elements have proven to be too much to overcome at times. Not all that often though, with just four editions having been abandoned to date, in 1970, 1981, 1995 and 1996.

Younger Legs Hold The Edge

With this race taking place over what is the minimum distance for a hurdling contest, the emphasis is placed more upon the speed than the stamina of the performers. As such it perhaps isn’t surprising to see that, more often than not, the older contenders have struggled to keep pace with their younger rivals. Bird’s Nest and Harchibald did defy that trend to a certain degree when scoring as nine year olds, but we are yet to have a horse in double digit years come home in front. The chart below breaks down the number of winners by age, up to and including 2017.

Chart Showing Christmas Hurdle Wins by Age

McCoy On Top Of Christmas Hurdle Tree

A selection of the all-time greats have tasted their share of success here over the years, with the greatest of them all sitting out in front as the jockey with the most wins in the history of this race, as of 2017. McCoy is of course now retired so won’t be adding to his total. Big rival Ruby Walsh may have a few seasons left in him yet to close the gap though.

Chart Showing Top Christmas Hurdle Jockeys

All That Glitters Is Green And Gold

The one thing each of McCoy’s winners had in common is that they all sported the famous green and gold silks of one of Sir Anthony’s biggest supporters over the years, JP McManus. With seven wins in total, McManus does seem to have a particular affinity with this race. He has of course been aided by owning some of the very best two mile hurdlers in recent times, with the likes of Binocular and Buveur D’Air landing the Champion Hurdle in addition to this contest. Given the quality of field this race regularly attracts, that duo likely won’t be the last past or future Champion Hurdlers to come home in front.

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