The must-watch races in December that offer vital Cheltenham Festival clues

Altior will put his Champion Chase credentials on the line in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park.
Altior will put his Champion Chase credentials on the line in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park.

Steve Chambers picks out some of the premier races in December that are primed to throw up some vital Cheltenham Festival and Grand National clues, including the Tingle Creek Chase, Becher Chase and King George VI Chase...

With the Government announcing that racegoers could return to the track in December, some of the sport's feature races could be run in front of a crowd - albeit a limited one - and those fortunate enough to gain entry to witness the premier races next month could be in for a real treat.

Top class action will take place in the UK & Ireland throughout the final month of the calendar year, with the busy Christmas period sure to throw up some phenomenal races, but we kick off with some early December highlights before turning our attentions to the festive action.

Tingle Creek Chase, Sandown Park: Saturday 5th December

Nicky Henderson may have an emerging star chaser on his hands in the shape of Shishkin, who made a serene start to his chasing career at Kempton on Monday. However, the reigning Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero will have some way to go to be regarded as Henderson's premier chaser in the Seven Barrows yard, as that accolade still belongs to multiple Cheltenham Festival winner Altior, who is set to make his hotly-anticipated return to the track on December 5 at Sandown Park in the Tingle Creek Chase.

Now ten years old, Altior may be heading into the latter stages of his career, but he still oozes class and is set to embark on another campaign that ends up with bidding for Queen Mother Champion Chase glory at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival. A winner of the Champion Chase in 2018 and 2019, Altior was unable to bid for a hat-trick of wins last season in the two-mile Championship contest, but is set to start his festival journey at Sandown in a couple of weeks. A winner of the Grade 1 Tingle Creek in 2018, Altior has a magnificent record of five wins from five races at Sandown, so will be looking to maintain that 100% record.

Currently a 6/4 favourite for the 2020 Tingle Creek, at the time of writing, Altior could face some notable rivals in the exciting jumping showpiece, with the Paul Nicholls-trained Greaneteen looking to build on a fine win in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last time out, while last year's Tingle Creek hero Defi Du Seuil will be looking to bounce back from a poor run in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in mid-November. Reigning Champion Chase hero Politologue was a winner of the 2017 Tingle Creek, and could be another making his first start of the season, while Rouge Vif and Duc Des Genievres add more depth to the race.

Becher Chase, Aintree: Saturday 5th December

Walk In The Mill will bid to become the first horse to win the Becher Chase three years on the bounce, and the Robert Walford-trained veteran is vying for favouritism in what is set to be an exciting renewal of the premier Grand National trial on December 5. The likes of Earth Summit (1998), Amberleigh House (2001) and Silver Birch (2004) have been victorious in the Becher Chase and the Grand National, and Walk In The Mill is one of those attempting to land the Aintree double. While Walk In The Mill is a leading fancy for the Becher Chase, a race he won in 2018 and 2019, Walford's charge is as big as 50/1 for the Grand National.

Kimberlite Candy is a more fancied contender for the National itself (25/1 with some firms) and is vying for favouritism with Walk In The Mill. The pair served up an epic clash in last year's Becher Chase, with Walk In The Mill prevailing by over two lengths, and that pair are set for an epic battle again. Yala Enki, Ramses de Teillee and Crosspark are another trio featured towards the head of the Becher betting, and all three will be looking to throw their name into the Grand National picture with a win over the iconic Merseyside fences.

International Hurdle, Cheltenham: Saturday 12th December

All eyes will veer to Cheltenham for their two-day International meeting on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th December, and the feature race of the meeting is the International Hurdle taking place on the second day. A contest that has thrown up some notable Champion Hurdle contenders down the years, the 2020 renewal should see the return of Gary Moore's Goshen, who is set to line up for his first start over timber this season.

Memories of his final flight tumble, when comfortably clear of his rivals in the Triumph Hurdle, will still resonate with the classy four-year-old's fans, but he will be looking to banish those bad memories by claiming a victory in the Grade 2 event. Having put in two mediocre displays on the Flat over the summer, Goshen bypassed pencilled in outings in the Elite Hurdle and Coral Hurdle, and is now set to line up at Prestbury Park on December 12. An 8/1 second favourite for the 2021 Champion Hurdle in March, Goshen will be hoping to firstly put in a clear round of jumping, while he will be aiming to showcase his sensational cruising speed once again, and outclass his rivals at the Gloucestershire venue.

Nicky Henderson has saddled the last three winners of the International Hurdle and is likely to unleash a strong team at this year's race, while there are sure to be some decent performers from elsewhere lining up to compete in the prestigious event at GL50.

King George VI Chase, Kempton Park: Saturday 26th December

It's been over a decade since the winner of the King George VI Chase has gone on and been victorious in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season, but a host of top notch staying chasers will be attempting to bag that prestigious chasing double, last achieved by the mighty Kauto Star in the 2009/10 National Hunt campaign.

Reigning King George and dual winner Clan Des Obeaux will be bidding for a third success in the Kempton Park Grade 1 on Boxing Day, but trainer Paul Nicholls has already been open with the fact that his star won't line up in the Gold Cup in March. However, he has shown to be a real superstar at Kempton and is entitled to be the market leader after a pleasing run in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park last week. However, it's his stablemate Cyrname that is the most fascinating runner, as fresh from a hugely impressive victory in the Charlie Hall Chase, the Ditcheat inmate will look to throw his name into the Gold Cup picture with a win on Boxing Day. A joint 5/2 shot with Clan Des Obeaux, Cyrname is currently 16/1 for the Gold Cup at the time of writing, but a dominant display should see him propel into the Gold Cup picture.

Other potential candidates in the Christmas cracker are Lostintranslation, who disappointed in the Betfair Chase, while Irish raiders Allaho and Monalee could potentially make the trip over, with RSA Chase hero Champ also priced up in what is destined to be a thriller.

Welsh Grand National, Chepstow: Sunday 27th December

Potters Corner got the better of Truckers Lodge and Yala Enki in the 2019 Welsh Grand National, and all three stayers are sitting prominently in the latest betting for the 2020 renewal, which will light up Chepstow on December 27. Last year's winner Potters Corner kicked off his campaign this season with a creditable third placed finish in a Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham in November, and the Christian Williams-trained star will use that as a stepping stone to the Welsh National. Currently a 25/1 chance for the Grand National at Aintree in April, Potters Corner will be a lot shorter if repeating his Welsh National heroics, but he will face a stiffer test at the weights this year.

Cloudy Glen was a runaway winner of the Southern National at Fontwell earlier this month, and is now looking to continue his progression over fences, while Colin Tizzard's Copperhead and the Anthony Honeyball-trained Sam Brown are another duo that will be key contenders in what looks a devilishly difficult renewal of the Welsh showpiece at the end of the month.

Don't Forget The Irish Crackers

We may have focused on the premier UK races, but there's sure to be a plethora of stars playing their hand in Ireland throughout December. The John Durkan Memoral Chase at Punchestown on December 6 is one of the early highlights, while there's a jumping extravaganza taking place at Leopardstown in late December with the Racing Post Novice Chase (26th Dec), Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase (27th Dec), Savills Christmas Chase (28th Dec) and Ryanair December Hurdle (29 Dec) just a quartet of top notch races to light up the Emerald Isle.

2021 Cheltenham Festival
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