It came as no surprise to see the two high-profile chases on Saturday go to Paul Nicholls. The Champion trainer has his team firing on all cylinders, and both Al Ferof and Silviniaco Conti ran out impressive winners.
Both were successful in their respective races for the second time. The next stop for the classy duo is likely to be the King George at Christmas, as it was 12 months ago. On that occasion Silviniaco appeared to outstay Cue Card in a thrilling finish, with Al Ferof a dozen lengths back in third. The grey had been off the track for a year prior to his Amlin Chase win of 2013, and chances are that he will arrive at Kempton this year as a slightly fitter and better prepared horse.
He’ll certainly need to be, as the record of ‘Amlin’ winners attempting to double up with the King George is pretty poor. Albertas Run could only manage sixth in the Kempton showpiece of 2009 after his success at Ascot a month earlier. Master Minded had a crack in 2011 but was pulled up in what became his final race behind the mighty Kauto Star. Captain Chris got closer than any other, when he failed by a whisker to hold off Long Run in 2012.
Al Ferof is as short as 8/1 with some bookies for Boxing Day’s ‘big one’, and those who have faith in the gutsy son of Dom Alco will take heart from the way he jumped on Saturday. In last year’s King George he definitely had a tendency to jump slightly out to his left, losing ground and impetus at a crucial stage of the race. There was certainly no sign of that this weekend, and if anything he actually went slightly right at a few of the obstacles.
The King George is usually run at a cut throat pace. Cue Card will likely tear off in front, with the rest battling to stay in striking distance. Any jumping frailties, at any stage of the race, will see a horse on the back foot, desperately trying to make up ground. It was striking in the Betfair on Saturday, that a few indifferent jumps from Taquin Du Seuil was enough to see him lose touch before being pulled up.
And so to the Betfair Chase and its record as a prep-race for the King George. The record of winners going on to success at Kempton is exceptional. Five of the last nine have completed the double. Cue Card only just failed last year, whilst in 2012 Silviniaco Conti had a Christmas break leaving the Betfair Chase runner-up Long Run, the opportunity to win his second King George. Such trends are reflected in the betting, with four from the Haydock race priced at 10’s or less to follow-up on Boxing Day.
Menorah appears to have found some consistency after running a terrific race on Saturday, backing up his win in the Charlie Hall a month earlier. He was disappointing in last year’s King George, though the race was his season opener. He won a rerouted Peterborough Chase at Kempton back at Christmas 2012 on heavy ground, and was impressive at Sandown in April, again on a softer surface. Right-hand tracks clearly hold no fears, and turning the tables on Silviniaco is by no means an impossible task.
Cue Card fans will hope that their hero is still short of full fitness, and will hit his ‘A’ game at Kempton. It’s certainly possible, as for much of the race on Saturday he appeared to be running and jumping with his usual enthusiasm. He faded down the home straight as if still short of match fitness. Tizzard’s star at his best cannot be discounted at Kempton, especially if the ground rides no worse than good to soft.
Dynaste was making his seasonal reappearance at Haydock and ran a decent race in third. Visually it appeared to be a slightly disappointing run compared to last year’s renewal. He could well step forward on that at Kempton, though last year did the opposite when trailing in fifth.
Simonsig and Champagne Fever are the two that reside second and third in the King George betting. I have to admit that I remain puzzled by Simonsig’s lofty status in the market. Not seen since March 2013, when struggling to beat Baily Green in the Arkle, the horse, without doubt full of potential, will have to make one of the greatest comebacks in jump racing history to win at Christmas. Clearly many still believe in the horse, but to return against top-class seasoned chasers, in one of the highest profile Grade 1’s of the winter, over a trip he’s not run since a point to point in April 2011...!!
Fans of Champagne Fever will be hoping that he can emulate Kicking King in winning the race for the Irish. If doing so, he will have galloped along a very similar path. Like his illustrious predecessor, Mullins’ star could only manage second in Cheltenham’s Arkle Chase. Kicking King lost his Arkle to Well Chief before winning the King George and going on to win the Gold Cup the following March. Many believe that Champagne Fever is capable of repeating such a feat.
So as the King George market takes shape with the race only a month away, will it be the tried and tested Betfair Chase form that prevails. Punters that closely follow the form and racing trends will likely look no further than Silviniaco Conti. But those of a dreamier disposition could find themselves drawn to the possibility of a monumental return from Simonsig, or an alignment of the stars to guide Champagne Fever to victory. Christmas can’t come soon enough.