Harchibald odds-on to run a cracker

IRISH raider Harchibald is an odds-on shot to make it two Grade Ones win on the bounce in the Stan James Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.

Noel Meade’s five-year-old is 8-11 with Ladbrokes to land the two-mile event.

Harchibald comes into this race on the back of a hugely impressive success in the ‘Fighting Fifth’ Hurdle at Newcastle last time, when he beat Inglis Drever by two lengths without being asked a serious question.

That run followed on from another stylish success in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, where he beat Back In Front a length and a half.

“Everything has gone to plan and he’s in good form,” said County Meath-based Meade.

“He is due to travel over tomorrow on the ferry with Kicking King and arrive at Kempton some time in the afternoon.

“He’s been fine since Newcastle and he’s well. I should think Rooster Booster will be the one we all have to beat, so it’s fingers crossed.”

The ever-popular veteran Rooster Booster will be having a second crack at the race after finishing runner-up to Intersky Falcon last year.

Philip Hobbs’s charge is the 5-2 second favourite with Ladbrokes after finishing a respectable fourth behind Back In Front in the Bula Hurdle last time.

The 10-year-old finished in front of Harchibald in the Emo Oil Champion Hurdle at Punchestown last April, when he was second to Hardy Eustace with Sunday’s rival back in fourth.

Despite that piece of encouraging form, Rooster Booster’s owner Terry Warner knows his gelding has it all to do.

“I think he will run well - he’s very well in himself. But I think he’s going to have a hard job to beat Harchibald,” he said.

“We did beat him at Punchestown last April when we were just behind Hardy Eustace, but he’s a young horse who’s definitely improving and he looks good.”

Warner is also wary of Howard Johnson’s exciting novice prospect Arcalis, who was a facile winner at Newcastle last Saturday.

“I don’t think Arcalis will be good enough at this stage as he is still only a novice, but again, he’s an improving horse and he’s only had a couple of races,” added Warner.

Rooster Booster was forced to make his own pace in the Bula at Cheltenham but Warner is hoping Steve Gollings’ outsider Castleshane will set off in front as usual on Sunday.

“I understand Castleshane likes to make it usually. If he goes off in front that will suit us, but I suppose we won’t really know what the plan is until they line up at the start,” he said.

“I think he’s a much better horse when he’s dropped in and doesn’t have to make it.”

Rooster Booster has won around Kempton before back in 2002, but Warner does not think the track shows up the gelding’s strengths.

“Kempton wouldn’t be the ideal track for him but there aren’t many races for him and this is a Grade One race with decent prize money,” he said went on. “He took a few races to get warmed up last year but he is going to be 11 on January 1 and I think time catches up with us all eventually.”

Francois Doumen’s runner Blue Canyon steps up to Grade One level for the first time.

The JP McManus-owned six-year-old won a Listed event at Enghien before disappointing in a Grade Three contest back at that track last time.

He finished fifth, but Doumen felt there were excuses for that performance.

“His last race did not reflect his form because he scoped very dirty after the race and he was blowing abnormally, despite the fact that he was scoped a few days before. But they catch that very quickly,” explained Doumen.

“He won his comeback, which was his prep race for the Enghien race, and he won that nicely.”

Doumen is keen to see how Blue Canyon fares against the best hurdling talent and he added: “I’ve always had a good opinion about the horse. I need to test him against the better horses, so that’s where we go with him.”

Blue Canyon has been ridden by Dean Gallagher in his last two starts but the Bering gelding will be partnered by Tony McCoy for the first time on Boxing Day.

Just seven runners have been declared for the race, with Paul Nicholls’ Elite Hurdle winner Perouse and Henrietta Knight’s Impek completing the line-up.

Impek is also engaged in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at Wincanton, but the Kempton race is his first-choice event.

Ladbrokes bet: 8-11 Harchibald, 5-2 Rooster Booster, 13-2 Arcalis, 12-1 Perouse, 14-1 Blue Canyon, 25-1 Impek, 50-1 Castleshane.

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