RACING takes an early Christmas break from today before launching into the traditional holiday fixtures on Sunday. The feature race of the day is the Group One King George VI Steeplechase at Kempton Park, won last year by Edredon Bleu.
Kicking King heads the betting at 5-2 and a win will be required if the classy six-year-old is to be a realistic challenger to triple Gold Cup winner Best Mate at Cheltenham in March, who by-passes Kempton and runs at Leopardstown on Monday.
Last Saturday, Haydock Park staged the extended three-anda-half-mile Tim Molony Handicap Steeplechase featuring 2005 Aintree Grand National prospects in the field.
The marathon was won by Merchants Friend, sent off at 8-1 and ridden by Neil Fehily.
Third horse home, Ebony Light, will be entered in the Grand National by his trainer Ginger McCain, of Cholmondeley who said: 'I'd like him to go up about 6lbs in the handicap and he's entered in the Welsh Grand National. If the ground came up soft at Liverpool he'd have a chance.'
The 2004 Aintree hero Amberleigh House is coming to the end of his mid-season break and McCain said: 'He'll start cantering after Christmas and we'll probably run here at the end of February then keep our options open'
Chepstow stages the Welsh Grand National on Tuesday when several anticipated Aintree Grand National horses will continue their preparation. Chives, the six-length winner over three miles at Haydock Park on December 4, looks good value at 8-1.
Racing at Haydock Park began with the Newton-le-Willows Police Novices' Hurdle as Roman Ark, ridden by Fergus King, won unchallenged by 11 lengths.
A steady early pace was set by True Tanner before Fergal King went to the front down the back straight and kept galloping to the line. One for the notebook.
In the Sodexho Prestige Handicap Steeplechase The Extra Man led the early stages before the 16-1 shot Ossmoses went on and landed in front after jumping the last fence on the far side of the course.
David Dennis kept Ossmoses galloping and staved off a prolonged challenge from the 9-2 favourite Burwood Breeze to win by one and three quarter lengths.
Petrula was the long-time leader in the Sodexho Prestige Handicap Hurdle Race, but tired in the home straight and relinquished the lead to Turtle Soup who had steadily improved his position under Jason Maguire. The 7-2 shot maintained his advantage to record a three-length win over Very Optimistic.
The field of four was bunched for the first circuit of the bet365 Novices' Handicap Steeplechase before Aristoxene, who returned a starting price of 5-2, and Michael Foley, pulled clear from the final bend to win.
Rebel Rhythm justified a starting price of 4-5 favourite and won the Red Square Vodka 'Fixed Brush' Novices Hurdle Race by 15 lengths.