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King George Chase preview

If Xmas bores you to tears, then you'll probably be straight into the form while the rest of the family crowd around the telly watching some old grey-haired bird ramble on. The King George VI Chase will probably be run at Kempton on Thursday afternoon (I say probably because the weather is awful in south-west London tonight with worse to come apparently), and it's a cracking field. Another new contributor, @tenembassy tackles the big race head on...

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King George Chase – Boxing Day, Kempton

Incredible to think that over the last nine years that only three horses have won this event, thanks mainly to Kauto Star giving no-one a look in between 2006-2009 and then regaining his crown in 2011. Long Run in 2010 and 2012 and Kicking King 2004-2005 are the other winners. Since Edredon Bleu in 2003 no winner has been bigger than 9-2. Recent winners had just the one seasonal run before coming here, although Kicking King needed two and three runs respectively before his victories.

Al Ferof (P Nicholls, 11-10, 4-1)
Four wins from just the seven chase starts, the chasing highlight of which was victory in the 2011 Paddy Power Gold Cup, and hurdling, his Supreme Novice victory over Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card. Was thought of as a two and a half miler by connections for a long time and in the early part of his career his jumping was considered an issue (fell in a point and a novice hurdle) but that’s much better these days and he’s generally very good at his fences. Will be interesting to see how he takes the preliminaries as well (has got warm and left his race in the paddock before). Given that Supreme win, he clearly has the class to figure and the step up in trip, although an unknown, should be no issue around this tight track, given he’s a good traveller. Possibly a little bit under his right price now, as this is his acid test, but if all the pieces fall together on the day, a major player.

Champion Court (M Keighley, 11-10, 40-1)
Did nothing last time in the Peterborough Chase but confirm the impression I already have of him, in that he’s best in level weights contests almost regardless of the class of it. Showed his Paddy Power running to be all wrong (trainer basically said he thought he had belly ache) and seems to run his best races when he’s pushed from the start, as he was in this event last year. Continually forcing the pace with Junior, he’s the sort of horse that keeps trying but ultimately that’s to his cost at the business end of races. What he might do here, however, is make this an interesting contest as far as Cue Card goes – are they going to take each other on early and burn each other out, or will Joe be happy to settle in behind? Not had long to get over Huntingdon either.

Cue Card (C Tizzard, 11-10, 11-4)
First of all, let’s get the smokescreen of “trainer form” out of the way. Much is made of trainer form, in that if you’re not having a load of winners you must be out of form, but that’s nonsense. What you want to see is consistency from the stable, with horses running to their marks, and as far as that goes, there’s no problem whatsoever from this yard. In fact, I thought it was a strange statement for Colin to make – we have a virus, but that’s not why they are running below form (which they aren’t), it was almost sounded like he was getting the excuses in early.

So to the horse. Things we now know we didn’t this time last year – he definitely gets three miles and he’s better when given his head. So let’s forget all about his run in this last year for a start, where he was held up and two serious mistakes early did for him. Even with those mistakes he still looked a danger four out but tired very quickly after that. Since then he’s gone from strength to strength – gave them all a running lesson in the Ryanair (two small mistakes), a very respectable run against Sprinter Sacre at Aintree and then victory over three of his rivals today in the Betfair Chase, laying to rest those ghosts about whether he stays in good fashion. As stated, if I have a worry it’s that Champion Court is going to want the lead – he will find him a lot harder to shake off than Roi Du Mee at Haydock – which might leave him vulnerable to something ridden with a bit more patience. But given his profile, he’s a worthy favourite.

Dynaste (D Pipe, 11-10, 3-1)
I think there can be little doubt now that they got it wrong at Cheltenham and that they should have gone for the RSA rather than the Jewson – he’s clearly better over three miles, and Kempton is going to suit him better than Haydock and Cheltenham too. Not difficult to be impressed with his win in the Feltham here last season, where he had it in the bag a long way out with a fine display of jumping in the main (remind you of anyone…..Grands Cru, maybe?) and whilst the Jewson was disappointing (surrounded by horses very much his inferiors at the finish) he did nothing wrong at Aintree and again in the Betfair, just getting tired on the long run in. Will travel better than plenty of these in the race, and the key will be for Tom Scudamore not to get giddy and go for home too soon, as he sometimes does…..

Long Run (N Henderson, 11-10, 10-1)
He’s gone at the game, hasn’t he? Some facts – hasn’t clocked a top class speed figure since his third to Synchronised in the 2012 Gold Cup (and for 12 months before that he was clocking them with tremendous consistency), his mark has been on a steady decline since that day too, and on this seasons form he’s no chance with at least three of these. And yet….something nags away at the back of your mind. This is what he’s been trained for, his chance to make it three wins in the race. His Kempton form reads 1211. With every drop of rain that falls (and there’s plenty coming) his chance increases, given he’s clearly lost some pace and looks more the out-and-out stayer these days. He’s another that is going to be ridden prominently, surely, as he’s happier with a show of the front, but even given the fact this is his race, this seasons form simply makes it too much of a leap of faith for him to come back to his best. Interestingly, declared with a visor, which looks a good move.

Menorah (P Hobbs, 11-10, 25-1)
Strictly on Cheltenham April form he should beat Champion Court easily (over a stone better off for 3/4l) and there’s a case to be made in as far as he’s unexposed at the trip – two attempts at it are chalk and cheese, but he seemed to just about get it when second to First Lieutenant at Aintree. No doubting his class – go back far enough and there’s a victory over Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti over hurdles – but the main problem with him has been his jumping. He has actually only fallen once, but nearly every line of form contains the words “mistakes”, “not fluent” or “hit fence”. Whilst he’s never going to be foot perfect, it would be fair to say it’s been better on his last two starts, but they were back in the Spring. Trying to win this fresh is a monumental task. Nevertheless, if there’s a surprise to be sprung, he’s most likely – his Kempton form reads 111, won’t mind rain and will get the race run to suit. If – and it’s a big if – he can avoid mistakes, he’s a chance.

Mount Benbulben (Gordon Elliott, 11-10, 14-1)
Another that needs a right-handed track to show his best. Had frequently appeared to come up short in Grade 1s until Punchestown this year, where he sauntered away from some useful rivals in the Grade 1 Novice Chase there. However, could well be that that piece of form is a little overrated – he went there a relatively fresh horse compared to most of his opponents who had hard races at Cheltenham, and certainly nothing he’d shown before indicated he was capable of such a performance. Even that form will need improving on here, and with his jumping occasionally leaving a bit to be desired too, he looks a bit short on price and not hard to pass over, but is another to ensure a good pace in the race.

Riverside Theatre (N Henderson, 11-10, 16-1)
Still a mystery to me how he won the Peterborough at Huntingdon recently, being on and off the bridle (mostly off it) and jumping very ragged at times, but he dug deep to deny Captain Chris and Champion Court on the run in. Obviously, many worries - one, he had a very hard race and he’s polling up here just a fortnight later, two he seems better at that sort of trip than further, and three, he’s had two goes in the race already, been beaten twice, and he isn’t getting any younger. Plenty of reason to oppose and not many not to.

Silviniaco Conti (P Nicholls, 11-10, 5-1)
The debate still rages on as to whether he would have won the Gold Cup this season but for crashing out 3 out, and as some of my money was on I’m probably pocket talking but I think he might have done. And undoubtedly all roads will lead to there again this season, but first he will try and pick up a good prize here. A little worrying that on his one run around Kempton he seemed a little uneasy on the track but that was back in his novice days so it’s probably best to forgive that. For me the highlight was watching him jump Long Run and the rest of them silly in last years Betfair Chase – one of the few times he’s made the running – and it’s worth remembering Cue Card had the fitness advantage in this years renewal of that event, and he ought to get closer today. Noel Fehily is a good booking for him, he’s 2-4 on the horse, I think a soft pair of hands is just what he needs, and he’s every chance of victory here.

For me, it’s all set up for Dynaste to claim the crown on a track he seemed to skip around the last time he was here. The key is the pace in the race, and it’s not hard to see Champion Court, Cue Card, Mount Benbulben and maybe even a visored Long Run all wanting a share of the front, which should play right into the strong-travelling Dynaste’s hands. I just don’t want to see Tom going for home too soon, sit tight until two out and then let his acceleration kick in. At bigger prices, it might be worth chancing Menorah puts a clear round in – if he’s going to win a big one over three miles it’ll be on a tight track, and he’s got enough class if he can brush up his jumping. Simply shouldn’t be the same price as Champion Court, regardless of their actual chances of winning the race.

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