No Vroum Vroum but Irish eyes on Kempton classic
The omission of Vroum Vroum Mag from the declarations yesterday morning for Monday's 32Red.com Christmas Hurdle means that there is scant Irish interest at Kempton - even though the feature is sure to have every Irish racing fan glued to phone, TV or laptop.
Those who backed Vroum Vroum Mag ante-post for the race should not have done so as her trainer, Willie Mullins, never said she would take her chance. It has been a guessing game with many of the champion trainer's big-race runners this season, rendering any ante-post wagering hazardous at the best of times.
Presumably her absence means that Faugheen is unlikely to run at Leopardstown, with Vroum Vroum Mag expected to take her place in the Ryanair Hurdle on Thursday, though this is a case of two-plus-two equals unknown.
So no Irish runners in the Christmas Hurdle and none in the King George, but do we care?
Connections of Cue Card and Thistlecrack are taking each other on and this duel is everything that jumps combat should be about.
That there were shockwaves across the sport when the joust was announced earlier this week is indicative of an era when trainers have too much say when it comes to horses' campaigning.
The logical race for Cue Card is the King George; the logical race for Thistlecrack is that, too.
Why run the Gold Cup favourite in novice company? He is rising nine and this is a proper test, but he has scared others away and only five take their chance, including Silviniaco Conti, twice a winner of the race.
While the combat will be compelling, the betting duel will be an appetiser of appetisers.
Which will go off favourite? My bet is Thistlecrack but Paddy Power are favouring his stablemate.
There is some Irish interest on Monday at Kempton, with Anibale Fly - which was heavily backed on Thursday - set to go off favourite in the absence of Thistlecrack in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase.
Tony Martin has had a poor campaign with his jumpers - six Irish winners - and he no longer has the patronage of Gigginstown. JP McManus remains loyal and the mount of Barry Geraghty makes plenty of appeal.
Over at Leopardstown on Monday, it's all about Min versus Identity Thief in the feature Racing Post Novice Chase, a cracking Grade One that went to the majestic Douvan 12 months ago.
Min represents the connections of Douvan - indeed, he has the same sire, trainer and owner - and, like Douvan, he comes here after winning the same maiden chase at Navan.
Identity Thief will give Min a few digs in the chest and serve it up to this haughty, all-action beast.
Identity Thief is two from two chasing and won the Fighting Fifth last year, illustrating the measure of the challenge facing Min.
The 'kids' have their Chrismas party too, juvenile hurdling stars Landofhopeandglory and his Fairyhouse victim, Baupaume, meeting in the supporting race at Leopardstown.
However, Gavin Cromwell has a live threat in Prospectus, a cheap purchase in Britain which already is a bargain buy.
Mention also of Limerick, racecourse manager Conor O'Neill taking charge of his final four-day festive fixture. He moves to Punchestown, leaving an attractive position up for grabs, and he will reflect happily on the quality of runners that flock Shannonside for Monday's feature.
The Grade Two Shannon Airport Novice Chase provides both Paul Townend and Patrick Mullins with a live chance of snaring a Grade Two, the former on the likely favourite Bellshill.
A Gowran maiden chase winner, he was a Grade One scorer as a novice hurdler at the Punchestown festival last term, and the negotation of fences seems natural to him.
That said, Kempton is where it is at, the very many frustrated by horses looking the other way in a programme that is Graded race-laden happy that a modicum of competition still exists between owners associated with the same stable. Thistlecrack makes the Christmas for so many of us and his connections are to be lauded.
Sit back, peruse all of Monday's mammoth offering in today's paper and build yourself up for a clash of the ages - a King George befitting Channel 4's swansong.