Kempton clerk Billy Clifford picks Envoi Allen to win ‘sensational’ Boxing Day racing card

The stage is set for a Boxing Day spectacular at Kempton, with clerk of the course Barney Clifford anticipating an exciting afternoon of racing.

Following a spate of abandoned fixtures during the recent cold snap, a welcome rise in temperatures this week means a full programme is set to go ahead for one of the biggest days in the sport, with 11 meetings scheduled to take place across Britain and Ireland.

Kempton is very much the focus of attention on British soil, with the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase the centrepiece of a card enhanced by the Long Walk Hurdle, which was saved and rescheduled from last weekend's abandoned card at Ascot.

Clifford has been the man in charge of the ground at the Sunbury track for over two decades - and after enjoying his usual course walk on Christmas Day morning, the former National Hunt jockey can hardly wait for the action to begin.

He said: "I've been here since 1999 and to have four Grade Ones on Boxing Day is sensational really.

"Sadly Ascot lost out with the Long Walk, but at least we've been able to stage and reschedule it, which has not happened here before in my time.

"We were all disappointed for all the other racecourses that lost key fixtures and revenue streams. We're delighted it's mild anyway."

Clifford is expecting racegoers to flood through the Kempton gates both on Boxing Day and the following afternoon for another quality card, despite ongoing travel disruption.

He added: "There are tickets available, albeit limited. I wouldn't put anyone off turning up.

"We're expecting a good crowd both days with both days being Bank Holidays. The only thing that doesn't help is us the fact there are no trains because of the strikes.

"Touch wood people will arrive early to enjoy the Ladbrokes Christmas Festival."

In years gone by Clifford has taken the track on Christmas morning on horseback, with the top-class hurdler Harchibald among the Irish stars he has put through their paces.

He stays on the ground these days, but likes what he has seen from this year's Irish King George challenger Envoi Allen, who is trained by Henry de Bromhead and will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore.

Clifford added: "It was fun back in the day. I used to ride Willie Mullins' horses, Francois Doumen's horses and Harchibald for Noel Meade, but I had to retire properly sometime!

"Envoi Allen arrived on Friday evening, cantered on Saturday morning and cantered again this morning.

"He looks amazing and has an amazing skin on him. Hopefully they'll have a good trip.

"I think Envoi Allen might be the value of the race. When I last looked he was 7-1 or 8-1 and you think to yourself if he hadn't had a little hiccup along the way he'd be 2-1."

Assessing the King George field overall, he said: "The one thing you need around here is speed. I've always said Bravemansgame is my A horse so to speak, but in saying that I think the ground might have come for Envoi.

"It will be a hell of a race. There are other horses in there and at a big price I wouldn't rule out Royale Pagaille. He's got form around here and needs a dig in the ground."

As far as the all important going is concerned, Clifford views it as perfect jumping ground.

He added: "It's lovely ground really. I'll keep it at soft, but there is better ground around there is no question about that. It walks better than it will probably ride, but we'll see what the jockeys say.

"The sky looks full of rain but it's not raining at the moment. There's heavy showers forecast today, but hopefully Boxing Day will be a dry day with a bit of luck.

"We had 20 millimetres of rain on Friday in the end. We had 18mm in an hour and a half and then a heavy shower in the afternoon giving us another two millimetres.

"Obviously a lot of people out there have been doing a rain dance - I wanted them to stop at about 10am on Friday! We had a dry day on Saturday and then a bit of dampness overnight, but nothing measurable."

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