The highlight of Boxing Day sport in Britain is the King George Chase, the biggest jumps race outside the Cheltenham and Grant National Festivals. It's a clash of the old and the new, the defending champ against the rising upstart with just three chase starts to his name, but an absolutely dominant record in staying hurdles before taking on the sturdier obstacles. And then there's a two-time winner of the race going around as the bolter of the field. What a great event to behold while most of us are recovering from Christmas Day!
Taking on the preview for this small but tantalising content in his own inimitable style is regular contributor, Jon da Silva, @creamontop.
32Red King George VI Chase
Grade 1, £209,000, Three Miles
Kempton, 1515 local, 0215 AEDT
Colin Tizzard, henceforth 'Big Col', knows his brass from his muck and I've noted his horses' habits of winning the most valuable races they contest at the expense of others. Now thrust into the rank of essentially the second top trainer in the UK of chasers in my not humble opinion. Clearly Big Col knows that winning the "32RED KAUTO STAR NOVICES´ CHASE (In Memory Of Nigel Clark) formerly known as the FELTHAM NOVICES´ CHASE" is worth about the same as second here or maybe we have very sporting owners. He had the favourite and they will run the novice Thistlecrack as second favourite and indeed that favouritism could flip flop.
Nonetheless it's hard to escape the reality the winner will get less than a 120 Bags for winning the second most prestigious Weight for Age chase in the calendar. The saddest part being even if this was trebled we might not get any more good horses in the race. Amazing that no Irish horses are coming given it is more valuable than the Lexus and that will be a bigger deeper field even if nothing as good as Cue Card in it?
With only one over 165 Official Rating and that way over and only über novice Thistlecrack prevents a 4/7 favourite. Thistlecrack, because of his perceived scope, is at least perceived as a real opponent if Cue runs within 12 pounds of his best not of the others can be. With ground likely no slower than Good to Soft connections of ilk of Irish Cavalier and Menorah missed a golden chance of a small field. The former wasted on bogs at Haydock and Aintree.
Third fav is Josses Hill who can jump like an articulated lorry but his last three starts over 2.5 miles on flat right handed tracks has seen facile beatings of God's Own, Tea for Two and Camping Ground and this is a flat right-handed track and scene of two of those trouncings. If you take a view Thistlecrack is wrong price or a shit or bust bet then 1/4 odds 1,2 makes him interesting for EW types. Equally with pressure on his jumping and distance issue one can take a view he and the novice make EW on others good bets.
Tea for Two won the "32RED KAUTO STAR NOVICES´ CHASE (In Memory Of Nigel Clark) formerly known as the FELTHAM NOVICES´ CHASE" last year. He is a really negative bet as looks squarely a 155 at best horse but will likely give his running and has course and distance form. Also his smart pilot may ride for a place.
Silviniaco Conti. Looked a light of former days for much of last year but dealt with lessers severely in the Betfair Ascot Chase. A run in the National looked interesting given his record was a series of 1s at tight tracks and his small stature. His form since suggests he is not top Grade 1 standard now. However the Ascot result has him well in with Tea for Two and Josses Hill say. Former winner.
Cue Card, the best UK horse in training. Devastating run at Haydock where the usual mixture of spring heeled and awkward leaps and Brennan as a passenger led to a facile win over a race-fit Silviniaco Conti and an injury-returning Coneygree. Time was good and since his wind was done really only had one poor run [Punchestown] and that would beat the public form of all in this race. Has had issues arguably on half his starts for pilot Brennan being out of sync both Haydock wins especially down the back last year where he was bizarrely credited with slowing horse down by getting in close to avoid the lead. Arguably lighting horse up in wrong place at Cheltenham and at Wetherby where Big Col took blame for early move at wrong time.
Thistlecrack is a physical freak. Big Col seems to love him even more than Cue which is a lot and astonishing at the same time. He has with increasing certainty blasted away three fields in novices including some worthy rivals. He now attempts a leap that many fail the first time. I cannot think of a horse trying his first unrestricted three mile Grade 1 Chase getting to Cue Card's level bar Vautour or maybe Dessie handed an easy and the top chasers in Britain a beating. Cue probably peaked to beat Vautour for me would have been favoured in a rematch. Vautour was also a notable jumper albeit left handed on goodish ground and not at two-miler tempo. Thistlecrack is an energetic jumper making some big scary leaps and at Cheltenham showing fences schmences as he ploughed through the ditch. For a stayer nothing has got him off the bit for two years it seems. However as a hurdler he was very much a stayer and three-mile chasers generally were faster hurdlers. Personally think he is too short and it needs a huge leap of faith. I am not as enamoured of his jumping as some to boot. This is not to damn Thistlecrack, who may be my second favourite horse in training, merely to say if he beats Cue Card with the right horses a mile back it's some achievement.
As a fan of the sport I would be delighted if Thistlecrack won or got close to Cue Card in a year where top class chasers are thin on the ground however at current prices for me it is hope over logic. The odds are not far off 6/5 the pair. Anything over that for Cue Card is value for me. Not liking Thistlecrack you can look at EW with a 1/4 odds but wait until 5 runners confirmed if doing that. You cannot realistically make a case for anything beating Cue Card on any form in the last 15 months if he finishes. I can make EW cases for the other 3 but Tea for Two's would be if 3 horses run below their last start he can place assuming Silviniaco does not run to that Ascot form of February.
To oppose Cue Card at greater than evens I think you're betting he runs well below even what can be reasonably expected or that Thistlecrack is even more of a freak than he has shown. Cue peaked in this race last year off a similar prep and faces less opposition most likely. He is the same price as a horse who will probably have to become the best chaser in training on his 4th start from a base camp ~20lb below that having faced no live ammunition. Even Coneygree went into the Gold Cup dismissing a Grade 2 field and he did not achieve Cue Card's likely rating in those races.
Cue Card to win at 6/5 or better.