The Irish duly won the 2021 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase, but not with either of the pair which shared in the five-strong short list suggested a week ago, writes Tony Stafford. The winner was 28-1 shot Tornado Flyer, ridden by Willie Mullins’ nephew Danny, successful for the third time over fences but after a losing sequence of nine.
Unusually, all five of the pretty obvious principals turned up, in one form or another and we certainly didn’t see the real Minella Indo, already well beaten when pulled up by a frustrated Rachael Blackmore a long way from home. He and Frodon, ridden by Bryony Frost, evidently wanted to put on a show of strength, not necessarily from the saddle, but certainly under them as their mounts shared a fast pace through the first part of the race.
Frodon and Bryony have been habitual and very successful front runners in their ten-win time together, three around Kempton, but this time the two heroines of 2021 (and a good while before) simply cancelled each other’s mounts out, compromising any chance of a finishing effort.
Perhaps it all goes down to the centuries-old presumption that Kempton is a sharp track: not when top-class horses share a fast pace over three miles on anything other than fast ground. We saw the same a race earlier when the nominal stayer Not So Sleepy pulled away his chance in the Christmas Hurdle leaving the more economical Epatante to gain an emphatic success.
Trainer Henry De Bromhead’s position atop the staying chase standings rests now on A Plus Tard’s seeing off three Gordon Elliott and four Willie Mullins opponents in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown tomorrow. The Gold Cup winner is looking rather tarnished at this point and it needs a big statement from A Plus Tard
So, team tactics anyone? It is probably tempting enough, one would think, especially for Elliott who is no longer a trainer for Cheveley Park Stud, owners of A Plus Tard. Mullins, whose Allaho ties in with the form of his two Kempton King George representatives, will need to be more circumspect although his stable’s owners have to get used to coming out on the wrong side in the very frequent event he has multiple contenders.
I expected it to be Asterion Forlonge yesterday, the horse that probably would have won the John Durkan Memorial for Mullins at Punchestown last time but unseated Brian Cooper when about to take the lead three fences from home.
That left Allaho to struggle home and Mullins clearly didn’t want to give him another tough race so soon after he looked pretty spent up the run-in.
Further back that day in fifth after some ordinary jumping was Tornado Flyer, and he had also been behind Allaho when that horse won at the Cheltenham Festival, but Mullins runs more than one if he thinks there is the slightest chance that he could pick up money further down the line in these valuable races.
I’m not convinced that Asterion Forlonge would have finished behind Tornado Flyer, who led him by three lengths going into the final fence with Clan Des Obeaux already beaten off. He appeared to jump the final fence the more spectacularly but this time crumpled on landing and Cooper again bit the dust.
It was left to Paul Nicholls to collect positions two to four with Clan Des Obeaux, a full nine lengths back, the outsider Saint Calvados almost four lengths behind in third and a spent Frodon toiling home another six lengths adrift in fourth.
Whereas Mullins was winning only the second King George of his illustrious career, Nicholls can point to 12 and with three, or rather two and a half realistic chances, he would have gone home less than chuffed even though they collected 95 grand between them as against £143k for the winner.
I must say I feel sorry for trainer Harry Whittington who could hardly have been accused of doing badly with Saint Calvados, winning five of his 14 chases and only narrowly failing to beat Min in a race at the Cheltenham Festival a couple of seasons back.
When it’s your stable star that gets whisked away to a man with a yard full of top-class animals, to the extent that your former horse will be a 25/1 outsider on debut, you can understand if his feelings are a little bitter. It’s a hard enough game and as we know the rich get richer and the rest get what’s left! Saint Calvados did actually look a possible winner inside the last mile but either insufficient stamina or simply limited ability at the top level took over.
The biggest disappointment of the King George for the home team was Chantry House, the 3-1 favourite on the day, who ran a shocker. He tied in with all the best form having beaten Asterion Forlonge back into third in the Marsh Chase at Cheltenham last season. A winner after that at Aintree and with the benefit of a comeback stroll round in a two-horse Sandown freebie should have put him right to run a big race but he was never travelling like a possible winner.
His performance was in stark contrast to the rest of the Henderson team who provided a treble for the trainer on a track which he loves so much he was sent into a state of apoplexy when the course’s management advocated the closure of its wonderful jumping track in favour of residential development.
I am with him on that, Kempton having provided many of my happiest racing experiences. It’s where I met Ray Tooth but also where I had a horse which won a mile and a half three-year-old maiden from 13 quite expensive horses by 20 lengths at 20-1 in heavy ground. Not many stayed that day either!
Epatante was the high point in Nicky’s treble, providing the filling in a sandwich between odds-on first-race winner Broomfield Burg, who must hold Festival novice hurdle aspirations for J P McManus, and Middleham Park’s last-race eye-opener Marie’s Rock who looked a mare with a future when adding a first hurdles success to three in bumpers two winters ago.
Last week I was suggesting that Christmas this year was falling ideally for me to circumnavigate the various requirements of work and family. Well here I am at almost 2.30 a m. on Monday morning absolutely knackered and spent of anything worth talking or writing about. So if you don’t mind, I’m turning in. It’s that or watching the cricket. Happy New Year!