Wayne Bailey's Leopardstown tips - It's time for the Don to prove he's the king of staying chasers
Published 26/12/2015 | 02:30
A few years back, I used to do some work for a betting website which involved interviewing certain trainers before their horses raced each day.
Some trainers are like an open book - they are easy to chat to and are very frank and honest about the state of their yard - while others can be quite guarded.
Reticence in this area is understandable, I suppose - racing is no different to any other sport in that tactics and planning now play a big part. You don't want to give too much away to the opposition, or indeed the bookmakers, especially if the stable likes to have a bet.
One of the trainers I used to enjoy dealing with was Gordon Elliott as he's a good-natured bloke who really loves what he's doing - although at the time, he tended to keep his cards quite close to his chest and would prefer to discuss a horse's plans with the owners first, rather than a reporter on the phone.
Having owned a few legs of horses in the past, that's something I very much respect, yet whenever he discussed Don Cossack (aged four back then), he would always light up, and it was clear that Elliott knew very early on that this horse was really something special.
Looking back through my old notes, Elliott told me that the whole yard were "buzzing" after his maiden hurdle win at Navan (November 2012) and that "he could be anything".
I remember thinking to myself that this might be one to back blindly for a while, but bitter disappointment followed a month later when Don Cossack was upped in class to a Grade One at the same venue and fell, having struggled badly throughout.
A loser in his next two races over hurdles, I put him on my list as one to treat with caution, but I should have stuck to the plan as he later proved his trainer's assertion that he'd make a great chaser correct by winning ten of his next 16 races, albeit at restrictive prices at times.
When you work in the betting business, you hear about so many supposed good things and if you backed every one blindly, you'd be in the poorhouse in no time but there's no doubt by now that Don Cossack is the real deal.
Thankfully, it's not too late to earn a few quid from 'The Don' and the 9/4 available over the last few days for the King George (3.10 Kempton) is exceptional value.
Described by Timeform as an "outstanding stayer", Elliott has nurtured him well and Bryan Cooper's mount ended up the top chaser in training last season.
Badly hampered in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, he lost nothing in defeat and quickly made amends with a superb victory at Aintree. Next came the Punchestown Gold Cup in which he put any doubts about his stamina to bed by forging clear to beat some good horses including Djakadam and Cue Card.
A couple of uncomplicated victories this term has proved he's still in great shape and I'm very confident that he'll take the prize back across the Irish Sea for the first time in ten years.
Cue Card opposes again today and it was nice to see the popular nine-year-old get back to form with Charlie Hall and Betfair Chase wins recently, but this is his fourth attempt at the King George and I'm not so sure that Kempton suits his style.
Willie Mullins' Vautour will also prove popular in the betting but I have big concerns about the way he jumped noticeably to the left at Ascot last time, a possible quirk he won't get away with in the King George, where any flaws are brutally punished.
A little earlier, I'm going to watch the Christmas Hurdle (2.35) without having a bet, with Mullins' Faugheen possibly going off in the region of 1/3.
Beaten at odds of 1/6 at Punchestown last time, he probably needed the run, although that's no comfort to anyone who was brave or mad enough to back him at that price.
He'll surely come on for the run, although the likes of The New One and Old Guard have plenty of talent and can't be written off easily here.
At Leopardstown, Rashaan is tipped to land the Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle (1.20) priced around 9/4. Unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, he looked very smart when winning a Grade Three juvenile race at Fairyhouse last time.
Expected to go off around 6/1, A Sizing Network looks an each-way steal in the Racing Post Mobile App Handicap Chase at Leopardstown (2.20).
A useful hurdler, the five-year-old's chasing career got off to a rocky start with a fall at Ballinrobe but he's learning something with every run and was much improved when third in his latest two novice chase races.
Over sticks, he appeared to prefer softer ground and an opening mark of 125 today for a racing weight of 11st 4lbs seems more than fair.
1.20 Leopardstown: Rashaan
1.45 Wetherby: Holywell
2.0 Kempton: Native River
2.10 Limerick: Free Expression
2.20 Leopardstown: A Sizing Network (e/w)
2.55 Leopardstown: Sizing John
3.10 Kempton: Don Cossack