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BOXING DAY BONANZA – A LOOK TOWARDS THE KING GEORGE VI CHASE
The ante-post betting for the Kempton showpiece has taken a differing position in recent days with the untimely and saddening demise of previous market leader, Vautour. The Rich Ricci owned seven year-old suffered a tragic ending while grazing in a field in the grounds of the Willie Mullins stable.
Runner-up in last years’ renewal, Vautour was likely to be primed for a repeat bid for Boxing Day glory, but unfortunately for connections and punters alike, those hopes will never be realised. Nevertheless, the calibre of National Hunt animal entered for the festive showpiece is still very high – although difficult to fathom at this early stage. In this article we will look at some of the highly fancied contenders for the three miles contest at the Middlesex track.
Veteran on the slide?
Last season’s King George winner, Cue Card has been instilled as the new market leader with several bookmakers – but will surely have to improve after a disappointing opening run at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase recently. The Colin Tizzard trained 10 year-old trailed in third place behind Menorah and winner, Irish Cavalier last month, and will likely have an opportunity to gain further race fitness with another tilt at the Betfair Chase at Haydock this coming Saturday. It could be argued that the Haydock race is a key event for the veteran chaser, who must prove he retains all his ability from last season to be considered a live contender for all the major chase events this season – including the King George. Cue Card looks short enough in the ante-post betting on the evidence of his first run, and it could be time to look towards the younger generation for this year’s winner.
Anyone that knows anything about National Hunt racing will be fully aware of the quality possessed by Irish super-trainer Willie Mullins and his principle owner, Rich Ricci. Despite the loss of Vautour, the pair could send over the exciting and completely untapped potential of Douvan for a tilt at the Boxing Day showpiece. The six year-old was virtually unchallenged in his novice chasing campaign – culminating in three facile Grade 1 victories at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown. The Walk In The Park gelding is untried at any trip over two miles and one furlong, however, Mullins and connections have expressed their willingness to send their stable star over an extended trip this season. Douvan is yet to be seen this season as yet, but if he turns out soon – and excels – in a two and-a-half mile contest, then his participation at Kempton could be a likely course for this exciting animal.
Only seen once at Sandown since his phenomenal novice performance of 2015, which saw him take the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Coneygree is back this season to try and reinstall himself as the leading light in the staying chasing brigade. Now a nine year-old, rising ten, Coneygree is another who is being aimed at the Betfair Chase at Haydock as a prelude to Kempton as trainer, Mark Bradstock, looks to unleash his exciting front-runner on a Triple Crown bid. At best odds of around 7/1 to claim the King George, if, and it is a big if, Coneygree could put his best foot forward at Haydock, then that price would contract severely as his dominating running style would surely suit Kempton on likely decent ground.
After an impressive looking performance at Down Royal recently, Valseur Lido could return to Kempton for the festive period to try and improve on his fall when a long way behind in the King George last year. New trainer to Valseur Lido, Henry De Bromhead could have found the key to success with this improving seven year-old who looks to have gained improvement over extended trips. It is far from certain that the Gigginstown House owned horse will arrive at Kempton, due to several other options over the Irish Sea, but the horse should definitely warrant serious consideration.
Others worth noting
Thistlecrack and his two novice chase wins have left National Hunt racing fans wanting more, but it remains to be seen if trainer Colin Tizzard will dare risk his hugely talented individual in open company at the King George. A more likely option will be to keep the nine year-old down the novice route – which could mean a tilt at the Kauto Star Novices Chase at Kempton.
Vroum Vroum Mag is another potential option from the Mullins/Ricci combination, as the highly rated mare is yet to be headed by another rival in her last ten starts. Regularly touted as a ‘super-sub’ for the Mullins yard, the seven year-old is adept at numerous trips over hurdles and fences, and the King George could be her time to be unleashed from her more illustrious stable stars.
After a relatively disappointing effort in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham last weekend, it could be far too early to discount More Of That from any King George considerations. It seemed obvious from the paddock at the ‘home of jump racing’ that trainer, Jonjo O’Neill had left plenty to work on his horse, and at odds of 40/1, the JP McManus owned gelding could be worthy of each-way value.