King George VI Chase Preview Tips
Boxing Day's traditional flagship meeting amongst the ten scheduled for UK is at Kempton, where the King George VI Chase takes centre stage. As well as a cracking renewal of that affair, there's a heavyweight head-to-head in the Christmas Hurdle, a potentially tip top novice in the opener, and £100 in free bets to be won. Phew!
If you're only interested in the competition, skip down to the bottom of this post, and get stuck in. Otherwise, here is what I am looking forward to especially on Kempton's King George card.
The opening novices' hurdle features four horses of great promise, headed by 114-rated and dual Group 3-winning flat horse, Dubai Prince. I have to declare a vested interest here, as I've backed him at 25/1 to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Quite aside from the opposition here, it's far from certain that the soft ground will be up his street either, as he's yet to race on deeper than good to soft. That said, three runs on good to soft and one on yielding have, well, yielded four wins, so there is scope for him to improve for the mud.
At any rate, he looked to have transferred plenty of his high class flat talent to the winter game with a most fluent round of jumping, culminating in a six length beating of Algernon Pazham. That one has since won, as has the fifth placed horse, both of them in somewhat lower grade than today's Class 2 affair.
Trainer John Ferguson referred to Dubai Prince as "my secret weapon" in a recent Owner Breeder interview. From a man who has trained plenty of high class ex-flat racers those words stuck with me, and I hope he can ping the hurdles en route to the top of the Supreme betting by 1pm on Boxing Day.
Against him is a Hendo hoss, and the Seven Barrows squad are bidding for a hat-trick in the race after River Maigue and Tetlami did the biz in the last two years. Vaniteux is the nag in question, and this ex-pointer won well on rules debut at Sandown when winging clear of promising types in the shape of Vibrato Valtat and the re-matching Champagne At Tara.
Both are entitled to improve on their hurdling debuts, as is Dubai Prince of course, and there may be less than the 7 1/2 lengths which separated them in Esher 19 days ago.
But the biggest danger of all to Dubai Prince might be ex-bumper beast, Sgt Reckless, who stepped up markedly on a hurdles debut loss to Amore Alato (also contesting this race) to beat West Wizard, a Hendo hoss which started that day at 1/6. There was no fluke about the victory, over course and distance, and Sgt Reckless can trouble all of these if on a going day.
As you can tell, it's quite a difficult one to weigh up and probably not a race to plough into. I'll not be wagering, and will instead be cheering DP as one of the few remaining realistic chances in my early season ante-post portfolio.
Hopeful Selection: Dubai Prince
Next up is a novices' handicap chase, and it's a race which has been a fair pointer to Cheltenham Festival handicap chases. Last year, Rajdhani Express won this before taking the novices' handicap chase at the Fez. And the previous year, Our Mick was third in the JLT against seasoned chasers having lagged up here ten weeks earlier.
That man Nicky Henderson has won four of the last six renewals, so it's fair to say this is a race he targets, and he's represented by Ericht this time. Although twice a winner on soft ground, the trainer has said he feels the horse is better on terra firmer, so his pre-eminence in the market is maybe worth overlooking. That said, Ericht ran a blinder when fifth in the Coral Cup earlier this year, and he could make a bold bid to copy stablemate Rajdhani Express and nab the Festival novices' handicap chase with that course form. The combination of weight and ground mean that, for me, he'll be doing it without first claiming this.
Backing McManus horses before seeing market moves for them is a dangerous game these days, but I am drawn to Thunderstorm nevertheless. A winner of three of his four runs on soft turf and also twice on heavy, the more rain the better for the son of Milan, which looks nicely weighted off 127. McCoy is reunited for the first time over fences, having won five handicap hurdles on this fellow.
Loose Chips has won twice over this course and distance on the hurdles track, and he's another that loves a sodden surface. He's hardly 'thrown in' but should at least appreciate the combination of trip, track and ground, which might make a good bit of appeal for each way punters.
Again, with so many horses having so little fencing experience, this is not a strong punting medium, but I'd be quite drawn to Thunderstorm should there be any McManus money for him on the day of the race.
Formerly the Feltham, this is now the Kauto Star Novices' Chase, and it's a cracking race usually. What it is not is a cracking trial for the RSA Chase at the Festival. Indeed, no winner of the Feltham/Kauto Star has EVER won the RSA Chase. Those beaten in the Feltham have won the greater test of stamina at Cheltenham, including Bobs Worth as recently as two years ago.
Just the five go to post, headed by Paul Nicholls' Just A Par. Second to At Fisher's Cross in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle last season, he's already matched that level by winning the Grade 2 Worcester Novices' Chase. The handicapper rates Just A Par a better chaser than hurdler already, having allotted him a mark of 148 over the big impediments, versus 140 over the timber tiddlers.
Soft ground should be all right for Just A Par, but he won't have it all his own way, with 147-rated Third Intention and the 145 raider, Green Flag, in opposition.
Third Intention seems to have been around forever, but is still only a six-year-old. Granted, he's a 26 race veteran, and has far less scope for improvement in that context, but his form is consistently good. Unfortunately for him and his supporters, he almost always finds one or two too good. Exhibit A on that front is that in ten chase starts, he's finished second or third EIGHT times, and won just once.
Seven of the placed efforts were in Grade 1 or 2 races but, tellingly perhaps, the sole win was in a Class 2 novice event, and he was fourteen lengths behind Just A Par in the Worcester the last day.
Green Flag on the other hand is progressive, coming here on a four-timer. Never rated better than 132 over hurdles, this son of Milan is now up to 145 in the chase division, and has improved from race to race this season. He'll have to improve again, but has a likable winning attitude, as he demonstrated when possibly short of fitness and holding on by a neck on his seasonal bow.
Annacotty looks better than Buachaill Alainn, but both have a stone to find on the top trio.
Forecast: Just A Par to beat Green Flag
The big one, part one. The Christmas Hurdle. The New One versus My Tent Or Yours. Both have come a fair way since finishing 1-2 in the Aintree Champion Bumper of 2012, and they're currently 1-2 in the betting for this race, and 1-2 in the betting for the Champion Hurdle itself. There is a sizable prospect of that changing over the next few days, and the likelihood is that the winner here will claim a material market edge for the Cheltenham Tuesday showcase.
But that's ten weeks away, and this is a lavish crown to wear in its own right. The New One has marginal favouritism in both markets, and he comes here off the back of an ultimately impressive beating of yardstick, Zarkandar. Whilst he quickened well having seemed to take a minute to engage the turbo there, the proximity of 131-rated handicapper, Jumps Road, in third - beaten just twelve lengths - gives the form a less than robust look.
The New One appreciated the hill there, as he will in March, but he's not short of speed either, as he showed when slaying former Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby, over course and distance in October. The merit of that form is also open to question and, on balance, that does give the Twiston-Davies' pride and joy an air of mortality.
My Tent Or Yours is an aeroplane, of course. Alas, he's never learned to settle in the early part of his races, and that means what's left at the end of his races can be a surprise even to his rider, the champ, AP McCoy. Still, he normally wins (six from ten in his career), and he sluiced up in the Betfair Hurdle last year on soft ground, so there'd be no worries on that score.
Tactically, it's not clear how the pace will set up, though there are reasons to believe one or both of Grumeti and Sametegal could go on. If they do, it would be to the hard-tugging My Tent Or Yours' advantage. If they don't, well who knows what might happen?
I wonder if it's even possible that MTOY could attempt to make his own running. It's doubtful, but not impossible.
The handicapper has The New One seven pounds clear of My Tent, and that seems a bit harsh on the latter. This is race to watch and savour, rather than wager, and we'll all know more after the event.
Selection: Either The New One or My Tent Or Yours (sorry, this looks a coin toss to me)
The big one, part two. The King George. And if the Christmas Hurdle is one of those two-clue fiendish crosswords, then the King George is a more accessible puzzle, despite the greater number of ostensibly logical contenders.
It's 10/3 the field, and might even be 7/2 the field on Thursday morning. But perhaps it's not quite as open as the betting suggests.
Cue Card is joint-jolly, and that's on the back of his wins at Cheltenham and Haydock, both Grade 1's. It may seem churlish to overlook him in that context, but I still feel he ought not to be able to best pitch-perfect versions of his rivals this day. His trainer, Colin Tizzard, disagrees, relating in the Racing Post, that "I don't think I have ever seen him so well, his last run was the best he has ever run. I am not worried about the ground. It is a championship race but I think he has the best form"
That would be good news for Cue Card fans who might have been worried by rumours of a low-grade virus in the Tizzard camp. But still, the yard has had just two winners from 29 in the last 30 days, and just six from 71 in the past two months. Those figures are well down on overall averages, and it's a niggle if not a nail for the case of Cue Card.
The ground - soft, perhaps softer by the time of the race - may be less than ideal. Cue Card sunk in this contest last year on heavy ground, finishing a twenty length fifth of nine to Long Run. He's improved since, but reservations remain, not least about the trip, despite apparently winning over 3m1f last time. The actual distance of that Betfair Chase has been the subject of many column inches elsewhere, and will be alluded to no further than to imply it may have been somewhat over-stated.
Dynaste shares favouritism, and his Kempton heavy ground form is far more robust. Indeed, he was a nine length winner of the Feltham here last year. He came closest to taking down Cue Card at Haydock, finishing just under five lengths behind, and he has more scope to improve than his rival, with just half a dozen chase starts to Cue Card's dozen.
Al Ferof could yet usurp both at the head of the market and, having been 10/1 for a long time, is now a general 7/2 shot. He's hard to weigh up. First of all, he's never raced over as far as three miles, and was for a long time thought of as a two mile chaser. However, a win over two miles and five furlongs in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham's November meeting in 2012 changed that perception.
However, it also injured Al Ferof, and we didn't see him again until Ascot a year and six days later. After vanquishing seventeen rivals in the Paddy Power, he saw off a sole antagonist at Ascot for a bloodless victory that proved little more than that Al Ferof retains as many legs as all good chairs. Sure, he jumped well. But he was under no pressure.
Here's the thing with Al Ferof and the King George. He can win the race, no question. And if you've snaffled one of those fancy prices, good on you. But at 7/2 he's no more than fair value, and arguably poor value. Not for me. Not at 7/2.
Silviniaco Conti looks interesting to me. Stablemate to Al Ferof, but available at 5/1, he was going very well in the Gold Cup when falling quite late on there. True, he's arguably been a bit disappointing in bronze twice since, but he was only a length behind Dynaste last time, and yet he's a 60% bigger price here. With ground and trip beyond question, and with every likelihood he'll improve for that first run of the season, he looks a bit of value against the top trio.
Long Run comes next, and I've backed him. I backed him within about half an hour of him getting whacked in the Betfair. At 20/1. I wouldn't back him now at 10's and I'd imagine he'll drift a bit. Still, he won the King George last year. And he won it in 2010 (OK, in the second week of 2011, after it was initially abandoned). Whispers regarding his demise have grown into shrieks, and there is a look of regression to his profile since this race last year.
But if he's going to show his old sparkle anywhere, it's surely here and now. The application of a first time visor is interesting/alarming. The idea is that it will give a horse that has got a bit 'cute' an injection of adrenaline and get him buzzing. The danger is that a perilous leaper at the best of times may fail to get from A to B on the required number of occasions with his vision more peripheral than normal.
Still, a year ago he was the winner, and he had Cue Card, Champion Court and Riverside Theatre all behind him by at least seventeen lengths. And he went into that having failed to record a win in the campaign, as he has done this term. That's where the similarities end, though, as he's been very well beaten both starts since a good third in the Gold Cup in March.
I couldn't recommend him at 10/1, but I did think 20/1 was too big about a hat-trick seeker who has also finished second in the race.
Mount Benbulben can jump poorly, and has had a troubled trip with the high winds. They're hardly encouraging signs but, on the plus side, distance and ground should be right up his street. He might just have been flattered by that Punchestown Grade 1 win in April, though, when Boston Bob and Dedigout fell, and Harry Topper was brought down.
The one at a price still which is worth a shekel each way is Menorah. Three from three at Kempton, and a close second in the Aintree Gold Cup (Betfred Bowl), if he's fit, he must have a decent each way chance. The ground ought not to be a problem, and the trip at Aintree was fine. That said, the combination of trip and ground is a moot point, and he might not quite get home, especially on his first run for 253 days.
Still, he's 20/1 and that leaves scope for tearing up a small ticket, win and place.
Value play: Silviniaco Conti
Possible big-priced each way: Menorah
And we close with a fifteen runner handicap hurdle. Nicky Henderson loves this meeting, and he's won this race three times since 2005. His runner this time is Master Of The Game, who was hugely disappointing when a long last on his first run of the season at Newbury four weeks ago. Hendo has been on record as saying that many of his have been needing that first run more than normal, and so it's possible he'll take a big step forward.
On novice hurdle form, Master Of The Game has a squeak, and he gets a first time tongue tie, which should help with his breathing. (I know it helps with mine!!)
In truth, he's a bit of a risky proposition, but he's a 14/1 risk for a trainer who knows better than anyone how to get the job done at this circuit.
The one who might be (some way) ahead of the handicapper is Beyeh, running here under the obligatory seven pound penalty for winning last time off 117. She won by a hard held fifteen lengths there, and a literal interpretation of that would make her about half a stone well in. That, though, was a Class 4 handicap hurdle and it was on slightly sounder sod.
Then again, she's won on heavy, and she was entitled to need that first run since May when duffed up in Class 3 previously. Mick Appleby would be an unfashionable winner over hurdles at Kempton, but that last run - if taken literally - gives him a huge say in the outcome of the nightcap, with Beyeh.
Two against the field: Beyeh, Master Of The Game
Now then, how about £100 in free bets? Good old Seanie Mac has given me another ton of wagers to credit to one lucky reader's account. Here's how you can win.
1. Predict which horse will win the 3.10 Kempton (King George Chase)
2. Answer the following tie break question: What will be the cumulative winning distance of all races from Kempton on Boxing Day? (That is, by how far, collectively, will each winner beat each second placed horse?)
3. Be a Seanie Mac customer, and place a £5 bet with them. (Remember, if you're a new customer, you'll get a free matched bet up to £25 if your first bet is a loser).
Leave a comment below this post with your Seanie Mac username, and your answers to the two questions above and, if you're the lucky (skilful?!) winner, you'll be credited with £100 in free bets to wager as you wish!
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Note, all entries have to be in before the first Kempton race – 12.50pm – on Boxing Day, because of the winning distances tie break question.