THERE were some memorable performances and some moments to forget over the festive period.
With an ultra-busy fixture list there was plenty to get stuck into for our latest instalment of Hotpots and Howlers, where we pick out the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
There’s only one place to start and that’s with the team down at Ditcheat. Paul Nicholls had a Christmas to remember, and not because of the presents left under the tree.
Clan Des Obeaux’s King George was Nicholls’s tenth in the Boxing Day feature, as the six-year-old emerged as a live contender for the Gold Cup.
Nicholls is always animated after a big win, but the grin on his face as Chappers called him up to the podium showed how glad the big man was to be back on top of the pile on the big stage.
But the victories didn’t end with the big one. Dynamite Dollars trounced Kalashnikov in the Wayward Lad the following day, and Quel Destin picked up a Grade 1 at Chepstow. All in a days work for Team Nicholls it seems.
One trainer who will be happy to see the Christmas decorations boxed up and back in the loft is Harry Fry.
I’m a big fan of Fry, but his big guns struggled when it mattered over the past week and he’s still searching for that horse to take him to the next level.
Bags Groove was well-punted before the Kauto Star, but ultimately beaten 37 lengths. And Momella looked a nice signing for the yard, but was another Fry chance to run no race when backed into a short-priced favourite live on ITV.
Unowhatimeanharry was an early faller in the Long Walk at Ascot before Christmas and the baby-faced assassin will be hoping his luck changes rather quickly.
Irish domination of Cheltenham is not a new phenomenon, but this March looks set to one way traffic once again.
Kemboy shot himself into Gold Cup joint-favourtism with a demolition job in the Savills Chase as the Irish announced their intentions nice and early.
With the likes of Might Bite, Native River and Bristol De Mai all far from dazzling, it looks like Guinness over Champagne once again at Prestbury Park.
Sharjah demonstrated that the Champion Hurdle may not be one way traffic just yet and Le Richebourg is now into single figures for the Arkle after impressing at Leopardstown.
Talking of the Champion Hurdle, another howler comes from that direction.
What already looked a weak division, now looks even weaker after defeats for ‘no bottle, no battle’ Samcro and Buveur D’Air at Kempton.
Samcro was backed into 6-4 favourite for the Ryanair Hurdle but again burnt the fingers of believers, stuffed out of sight in seventh. His controversial owner quickly said that could be it for the season with a crack at fences a possibility next year. How quickly that bubble has burst…
Meanwhile Kempton was in a shocked silence after Verdana Blue toppled the already odds-on Champion Hurdle hope Buveur D’Air.
The Christmas Hurdle brings us nicely onto our next Howler, awarded to our own columnist Nico De Boinville.
He rode Verdana Blue to victory against stablemate Buveur D’Air, and looked rather sheepish after the race as no one was quite sure what to do.
With the microphone in his face, he quickly let the cat out the bag that the jockeys were riding for second behind the strong odds-on fancy. Not sure that’s within the rules Nico…
Finally, the last award of the week goes to Nicky Richards. The northern-trainers remarkable campaign shows no sign of slowing down.
As well as his ridiculous strike rate, Simply Ned upset the applecart in Ireland when toppling the mighty Footpad in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase. It was his second win in the Grade 1 in as many years.
Not getting any younger at eleven, anything that horse can do now will be a bonus to connections that owe him anything.
Onwards and upwards for Richards who continues to have a whale of a time on the track.