The King George VI Chase is not only the highlight of Kempton’s spectacular Boxing Day card but the most interesting prospect for punters of the day (3.10pm, Channel 4). The betting market for this three mile contest is headed by Irish raiders but they are far from certain to take home the spoils.
Gordon Elliott’s stable star Don Cossack narrowly leads the market at 9/4. He’s won eight of his last nine starts and is unbeaten in his two runs this season – both were in Ireland in October. Most recently this eight-year-old was sent off as the red hot favourite in the JN Wine Champion Chase and won like one, beating Paul Nicholls’ Rocky Creek eight lengths. It wasn’t the hottest competition.
Don Cossack’s mark has risen to 175 since he’s been reintroduced to distances of around three miles, making him the highest rated staying chaser around. He appears to have stamina galore but doesn’t need mud to win in Grade 1 company. He is not the most stylish traveller or jumper (is he slightly uncomfortable?) but he hasn’t taken a tumble since he came to grief as a novice chaser at Cheltenham last year.
This is his first visit to Kempton but he is effective on right-handed tracks so there’s no reason to think it won’t suit him provided he doesn’t need the undulations of home. He looks a worthy market leader but has only scored once in his four forays across the channel.
Whilst Don Cossack only looks impressive at the end of a race his fellow Irish raider Vautour, the 3/1 second favourite, is eye-catching from flagfall. This French bred six-year-old usually makes all and has only been beaten once in his ten starts since joining Ireland’s top jumps trainer, Willie Mullins.
Vautour was spectacular in the Golden Miller Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, beating Noel Meade’s Apache Stronghold 15 lengths. That was on good ground over two and a half miles. We’ve seen him once since then. He made his seasonal debut at Ascot in late November and beat Paul Nicholls’ Ptit Zig nearly two lengths over two miles five furlongs. He made a mistake at the eleventh and had to be driven out by Ruby Walsh. Ptit Zig was giving him 5lb.
This will be Vautour’s first attempt at three miles and only his sixth start over fences. He has 4lb to find with the favourite but looks progressive and may well come on for that run. A slight concern is his tendency to edge left at his fences. He is also unlikely to be allowed to have things all his own way at the front in this field but will benefit from the able assistance of stable jockey Ruby Walsh.
Mullins also sends out the six-year-old German bred, Valseur Lido (25/1). He finished 15 lengths behind Vautour in the Golden Miller, losing out on second place by a short head. Unlike his stablemate he has form over this distance, winning a Grade 1 novice chase at Punchestown under Walsh in April. Irish Cavalier (50/1) finished four lengths behind him in fourth and hasn’t done anything since to make him appeal here.
In his only outing this season Valseur Lido was beaten 12 lengths by a more fancied Mullins runner, Djakadam partnered by Walsh, three weeks ago. Mullins doesn’t send out hopeless causes but Valseur Lido is rated a stone lower than Vautour. He will be partnered by the former French champion jockey, Jacques Ricou, who has been riding out at Mullins’ yard. Walsh rarely picks the wrong horse so our preference has to be for Vautour.
English hopes are headed by the rejuvenated Cue Card (4/1). This nine-year-old looked a spent force last season and failed to score. He was beaten 15 and 26 lengths by Don Cossack and couldn’t get within 12 lengths of Silviniaco Conti. That’s probably because he couldn’t breathe properly at the time. Having identified the problem his trainer Colin Tizzard (pictured) said that he was surprised Cue Card could trot, let alone gallop. The operation to fix Cue Card’s trapped epiglottis seems to have worked.
In late October he kicked off his season with a victory in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. The ground was slower than ideal for him and he raced keenly but he still galloped all the way to the line under his new pilot, Paddy Brennan. Cue Card followed up with an impressive win in the Betfair Chase at Haydock a month later. It earned him a big hug from Brennan – it was the only major move he made. That was also on soft ground but he left Silviniaco Conti for dead, beating him seven lengths on the bridle. David Pipe’s Dynaste (who finished four lengths behind him at Wetherby) was 12 lengths further back in third. Brennan respects the Irish challengers but says he wouldn’t get off Cue Card for anything. His confidence seems justified.
If he’s recovered sufficiently from his heroics at Newbury the Hennessy winner Smad Place (8/1) is another live contender. His regular jockey Wayne Hutchinson thought that he was in such good form in a recent schooling session that he persuaded trainer Alan King to let him line up.
This eight-year-old French bred won first time out at Kempton, beating Fingal Bay eight lengths over a shorter distance on good ground. His rating is at a lifetime high of 168 and his form suggests that slow ground won’t inconvenience him. King thinks it’s quite a big ask after Newbury but is hopeful. Smad Place is yet to score in Grade 1 company but operates on the track and looks progressive.
In contrast the nine-year-old Silviniaco Conti (9/1) has plenty of top class victories to his name and is bidding for his third King George win. The trouble is that his rating has plummeted to 168 this season.
He started as the 5/4 favourite at Haydock last time but couldn’t live with Cue Card. He’d had a spin round Kempton over hurdles as a prep race and was predictably outpaced over a shorter distance, finishing a very respectable second. Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has always said that all he does is stay.
Issues with sarcoids (wart-like growths) have been mooted recently but he’s always had them. Nicholls thinks that stretching out to jump could make them painful. We don’t know if they were a factor but his jumping looked ok at Haydock. It was finishing speed that was lacking. His jockey, Noel Fehily, reckons that Silviniaco Conti is capable of putting in a solid performance and is the ‘forgotten horse’ of the race. Fehily may be right but it requires a leap of faith to see him reversing the placings with Cue Card here. He’s an interesting each-way prospect.
Al Ferof (20/1) has finished third in the past two renewals of this race when trained by Nicholls. This season he has been moved to the stables of Dan Skelton, Nicholls’ former assistant, in the hope that he will benefit from a change of scenery.
Al Ferof can be relied upon to win first time out and he did exactly that in impressive style on his debut for Skelton. What happens next is open to debate. Now a ten-year-old and the veteran of the field, it is difficult to imagine him winning in this company, even if he has been revitalised by the move.
David Pipe’s nine-year-old Ballynagour (66/1) completes the line up. He finished four lengths behind Cue Card at Wetherby and was completely tailed off in the Betfair Chase last time. His price looks an accurate reflection of his chances.
Our Preview’s King George Chase Betting Tips
Don Cossack may be the highest rated contender but he’s not appealing at 9/4. His record away from Ireland and his style of running are suspect. Mullins and Walsh always merit respect but Vautour’s price of 3/1 isn’t exactly generous for an exuberant young horse tackling the distance for the first time.
- The each-way prospect of the race has to be Silviniaco Conti at 9/1 but our preference is for Cue Card. He only has 3lb to find with the favourite and is on an upward curve now that he can breathe – Brennan’s assistance also aids his cause. Our King George Chase betting tip is to back Cue Card to win, best priced at 4/1 with Coral, Paddy Power, William Hill or BetVictor.