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Long ruN can retain crown

SO, there I was, happily trying to stuff a turkey the other day when the missus asks me if I'd be going up to the "Boxing Day races at Leopardstown."

She meant no harm, but I had to bite my tongue. As a Canadian, she still calls it Boxing Day, so I gently explained that yes, I would be going to the 'St Stephen's Day' races.

It's not certain where the term Boxing Day comes from, but one popular theory is that in Victorian times, wealthier people would give workers and servicemen a box with a gift in it (often money) on December 26 -- their Christmas box.

In Ireland, today is often called Lá an Dreoilín (day of the wren), although sadly, the tradition of wrenboys seems to be dying off as the years go by.

One tradition that is very much alive though, is the Dubs' day out at Leopardstown Racecourse, which is quite appropriate as St Stephen is one of the patron saints of horses. He is also, believe it or not, the patron saint of headache sufferers.

I'm sure a few racegoers will have woken up with a headache this morning, but it's nothing a flask of whiskey, a few ham sambos and some fresh air at the south Dublin venue won't sort out.


Despite all the action at my local track, we'll all be keeping a very close eye on the racing across the water, where we have what is potentially the showdown of the season in the King George at Kempton (3.10), as Kauto Star takes on Long Run once again.

What more can one say about Kauto Star that hasn't been said already?

I opposed him in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, but it was one of those great racing moments where the old veteran showed the young pretender how it's done. To see Paul Nicholls' superstar back in the winner's enclosure once again would have brought tears to a glass eye.

Haydock have announced this week that they've commissioned a statue of the horse to recognise his achievements and it's a rare honour which is well deserved.

But superlatives aside, you'd have to wonder how much the race took out of him and whether or not he can remain in that tip-top shape, considering the fact he'll be 12 very soon.

While all horses have their birthday on January 1 officially, Kauto was actually foaled on March 19, which isn't far off.

Kauto may have beaten Long Run at Haydock, but the Betfair Chase was a prep run for the latter and it's essentially no secret that the runner-up's target has always been the King George which he won in such style last season.

At 5/4, he's a good enough price to retain his crown, but you'd have to have some niggling doubts about his jumping. He made a couple of mistakes on the way around last time although in fairness, it was a lack of fitness that found him out in the end.

If he gets a clear round of jumping in, Long Run should clinch it. With Master Minded also in the mix, this is definitely one to savour so make sure you find a television set at 3.10.


THE 2010 Scottish National winner Merigo looks a little overpriced at 25/1 for the Betfair Don't Settle For Less Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby (1.45). He came second in the 2011 Scottish National and clearly has plenty of stamina. The 2m6f at Kelso last time didn't suit and we should see improvement now that he's back at the longer distances.

• Last weekend's each-way selection, Raya Star, won at 12/1


1.15 Wetherby: Dizzy River

1.45 Wetherby: Merigo (e/w)

2.00 Kempton: Grands Crus

3.10 Kempton: Long Run

Irish Independent