Nicky Henderson has had a change of heart about the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Up until the 1965 Amlin Chase 10 days ago he had expected Paul Nichollsâ€™ Master Minded to be the main rival to his stable star Long Run. But the manner of Master Mindedâ€™s victory at Ascot has changed all that.
"Prior to the race at Ascot I thought that Master Minded was the horse who could be more dangerous/interesting at Kempton. After watching Ascot, it's Kauto I'd be more frightened of. Master Minded didn't look as likely a three-mile horse as I thought he would, but thatâ€™s only my opinion."
Henderson will have seen that race only on video, and what has surely been more influential in revising his view is the race he saw with his own eyes on that same afternoon up at Haydock. There, in the Betfair Chase, Nicholls' "other" horse, Kauto Star scored an eight-length victory over Long Run, showing those who had said it was time for him to be retired that they were very, very wrong. Henderson said that Long Run should be at his best on 26 December, but was equivocal as to whether that will be good enough to score another victory in the King George.
"It's possible that (Kauto Star) wasn't very hard to beat last year, and it's possible that he will be very hard to beat this year. He's already beaten us so we've got to beat him first. There's no point worrying about the others if we can't beat Kauto. Okay, we beat him twice last year (in the King George and Gold Cup) but you have to say he looked back to his very best at Haydock and he's one of the greatest horses we seen for a very long time."
Pricewise, in the Racing Post this morning, suggest that Henderson has good reason to be concerned, and have marked up the 5/1 available on Kauto Star as the value in the race, even though he's not been confirmed as a definite runner in the King George.
Amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, son of Long Runâ€™s owner, Robert Waley-Cohen, will again ride the horse. Henderson acknowledged that they might not have had a tactically sound approach in the Betfair. "He was too fresh early on and he got in a bit of a head-to-head with Kauto. Okay, the other horse made him make a mistake, which is fair enough, but he actually went back for more and got another dose of it, and that really rocked the boat. But turning out of the back straight, I thought it was going to be a disaster, so he's done very well to get anywhere near him."
The Kempton Boxing Day card could be a defining one in deciding the destination of the trainersâ€™ championship season. As well as Long Run, Henderson is likely to have the favourites for the other two Grade 1 races on the card; 2010 Champion Hurdler Binocular in the Christmas Hurdle, and Bobs Worth in the Feltham Novice Chase. "Of course it would be good (to win the championship) as it's a while since we've won it, but not when to start moving horses around, that would be pointless. Me and Paul (Nicholls) a good mates, so we can wind each other up about it, and we are always the first to say well done to each other."