Countrywide Flame to light up Christmas Hurdle

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The Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day should present some firmer Champion Hurdle clues ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and Countrywide Flame looks most likely to enhance his credentials at Kempton.

It is the ground that is the biggest indicator towards a success for John Quinn’s runner, given the manner of his success in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle earlier this month on heavy going.

He routed the field that day and a repeat of that performance will make him exceedingly tough to beat here at 2/1.

Meanwhile, of the last seven Fighting Fifth winners to attempt the Christmas Hurdle double, three were successful.

Darlan is the other joint favourite at 2/1, but although a class act, there are sufficient doubts about the ground to oppose him.

Jockey Tony McCoy has indicated that the ground is plenty soft enough and trainer Nicky Henderson has already pulled him out of the Fighting Fifth and The Ladbroke in recent weeks because of the ground.

Conditions are unlikely to be any different at Kempton, but Darlan simply needs the run to continue preparations towards Cheltenham.

Cinders And Ashes is 4/1, but it is hard to find a viable reason why he will reverse Fighting Fifth form with Countrywide Flame, even if this run was his first of the season.

Aside from the favourites, Raya Star is another who will relish the ground and has each-way claims at 8/1, although winning a race of this stature may be a step too far for him.

Dodging Bullets is the interesting one in the betting at 12/1 given that he has won both starts this season since a summer wind operation.

Whether he can reverse finishing behind Countrywide Flame twice last season remains to be seen, but it is hard to see him not finishing in the places.

All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date

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Craig Kemp

Craig has written for Ladbrokes since the 2010 World Cup, having previously gained a Media & Sports Journalism degree and contributed to publications including the Racing Post. His main areas of interest are horse racing and UFC, but he is also an avid X Factor gambler and likes nothing more than indulging in a spot of Hip Hop Karaoke.