The King George VI Chase on Boxing Day at Kempton (3.10pm) looks to be the most closely contested renewal of this famous horse race for many years.
The 3/1 favourite, Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card appears to be the one to beat. This seven-year-old son of King’s Theatre silenced his doubters with an emphatic win in the three mile one furlong Betfair Chase at Haydock a month ago. He had been a disappointing favourite on his seasonal debut when finishing third in the two mile Haldon Gold Cup handicap at Exeter at the beginning of November.
At Haydock he proved that he is not only a formidable force over two miles but that he can keep a scorching pace up for more than three. He had every excuse to lose. He pulled early on and the ground was unsuitably soft. He won from the front, which is his preferred style.
Last year he could only finish fifth in this race when inexplicably held up by jockey Joe Tizzard. He looked very tired and was 20 lengths behind the winner, Nicky Henderson’s Long Run. The ground was so heavy that two fences were omitted. In addition, a case can be made that the best of his form is when racing on left handed tracks, while Kempton is the opposite way around.
This year, if Cue Card comes into the race in good order (and that’s a very big ‘if’ as the yard currently has some horses with a low grade virus) it looks as if heavy ground and a right-handed racecourse rather than any of his rivals may be the key concerns.
Cue Card’s closest pursuer in the Betfair Chase was another seven-year-old, David Pipe’s Dynaste (10/3). He finished four and a half lengths behind him under Tom Scudamore. It was his first run of the season and he might well come on for it, although he looked outpaced rather than outstayed.
On a more positive note, Dynaste won over course and distance in the bog on Boxing Day last year, taking the Grade 1 Feltham Novices’ Chase with consummate ease. If the ground is heavy again he looks to be a very serious contender.
Paul Nicholls (pictured) sends out two French-bred sons of Dom Alco in an attempt to win this race for the eighth time. His seven-year-old Silviniaco Conti (5/1 in the King George Odds) should be another beneficiary of bottomless ground. Last season he put together a series of three consecutive wins, including the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Newbury in November when he beat Long Run by two and a half lengths. After his fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup he finished third by just under two lengths in the Betfred Bowl Chase at Aintree in April. That was on good ground, which has exposed his apparent lack of tactical speed in the past.
He will need a real test of stamina to reverse the placings of his seasonal debut. He finished third, nearly six lengths behind Cue Card at Haydock under Noel Fehily. Nicholls suggested after the race that he would probably come on for the run. He will need to. Fehily will again be on board for this King George.
Unlike his stablemate, the eight-year-old Al Ferof (4/1) has not been tried over three miles since he won his maiden point-to-point in Ireland as a four-year-old. He was the second favourite when due to line up in this race last year but suffered a season-ending tendon injury shortly before it. Nicholls is confident that he will have no problem with the trip. It is easy to believe him.
After an absence of a year he made a successful return from injury at Ascot in late November. He beat Nicky Henderson’s French Opera, easily by eight lengths in the two mile three furlong Grade 2 Amlin Chase when giving him 6lbs. It was literally a two horse race but Al Ferof’s style of running and exuberant leaps at the last two fences suggested that he was far from emptying. In his only run last season he won the Paddy Power Gold Cup (a handicap chase) at Cheltenham in November, beating Alan King’s Walkon by three lengths when carrying over a stone more than him. Rated 5lbs lower than Silviniaco Conti, it is difficult to judge just how good he is. This race should tell us. He is the choice of stable jockey, Daryl Jacob.
In contrast, Nicky Henderson’s Long Run’s (10/1) ability is there on the page as a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who put his older rivals to the sword as a precocious six-year-old. He won this race last year but, now an eight-year-old, he has yet to show anything like that form this season.
He had mitigating circumstances in his debut. He blundered so badly at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase that it reportedly caused him to bleed. At least that is what his trainer guesses, though it makes more sense that it happened the other way around. He finished last, some 40 lengths behind the winner.
There was no veterinary explanation given for his most recent run. He could only finish 21 lengths behind Cue Card in fourth at Haydock. His amateur jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, said that he was flat out all the way. He will get the heavy ground needed to slow the speed of his rivals to feature here. A visor is being tried for the first time. If back to anywhere near his best then 10/1 will look very big in hindsight.
Henderson also goes for the headgear on the nine-year-old Riverside Theatre (20/1), who is equipped with both hood and blinkers. He finished nearly 30 lengths behind Long Run last year in sixth, emptying in the testing going. He made a good start to this season, winning the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon two weeks ago over two and a half miles. It was an odd run because he appeared beaten and with no chance at all before staying on in most unlikely fashion to take victory.
Martin Keighley’s Champion Court (33/1) was only half a length behind Riverside Theatre at Huntingdon, carrying 6lbs more and hindered late on by a slipped saddle. If handicap marks are any indicator, both horses look to be outclassed in this company. However Riverside Theatre does have some classy back form and it would be no surprise to see him out-run the 20/1 odds for his part-owner, the overexposed Irish actor James Nesbitt.
Phillip Hobbs’ Menorah (20/1) shares a more competitive rating of 169 with Dynaste but was not the choice of Richard Johnson before Captain Chris came out of the race. We haven’t seen Menorah since he came second to Champion Court at Cheltenham in a Grade 2 handicap in April. He was carrying over a stone more than him and went down by less than a length. He has excellent course form, winning on his three previous visits to Kempton over shorter trips. If he is fit and well he looks to provide an interesting each-way prospect.
The only Irish raider is Gordon Elliot’s Mount Benbulben (14/1). This eight-year-old unseated Danny Mullins in the Champion Chase at Down Royal last month but ended last season with a Grade 1 novice chase win over three miles one furlong at Punchestown. He should be suited by Kempton as he tends to jump to the right but, currently rated 160, he will have to post a lifetime best to feature here.
King George Betting Tips Conclusion
Recent form makes Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card a likely winner if the ground is not too soft but the virus in the yard is a concern and he failed badly in similar conditions last year, albeit when given an uncharacteristically negative hold-up ride. Paul Nicholls’ runners both have live chances but, with testing conditions looking a certainty, SILVINIACO CONTI has to be our pick to win, currently best priced at 5/1 with BetVictor and Coral.