Al Ferof – Owner John Hales believes Al Ferof is coming into the race under the radar and is ready to prove himself a leading staying chaser who can ultimately challenge for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He finished third last year to stable mate Silviniaco Conti, but the grey’s recovery from stomach ulcers and the prospect of better ground at Kempton this time is fuelling the owners hopes that he can land the prize for a third time. When he won his sec2ond successive Amlin Chase, the horse had only been in training for eight weeks, with Hales saying, “That was an excellent effort and I have high hopes, given ground conditions may be genuinely good to soft, he will produce a good performance on Boxing Day. If Al Ferof proves he can stay the trip really well we can starting thinking of the Gold Cup. I think he’s in there with a good chance.”
Champagne Fever – Champagne Fever has never contested the King George trip, but jockey Ruby Walsh seems confident he’ll stay the extra, “I think he will be suited by the step up in trip, but he is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. Champagne Fever on a good day is a very good horse, but he’s had a few off-days when he hasn’t been so good. You are guessing, and you hope, that the step up will suit him. I think it will, but you can’t say for certain.” Trainer Willie Mullins has admitted that challenging the likes of defending champion Silviniaco Conti, Al Ferof, Menorah, Dynaste and Cue Card is a tall order, but feels his dual Festival winner deserves to take his chance, “His pedigree suggests that he should stay three miles as he gets older, because he’s bred to be a stayer and that’s what we hope he will be. We’re taking on a big task going across for the King George, but he’s going to learn an awful lot jumping round Kempton at that speed. If he’s going to be a Gold Cup horse, he’s going to have to do those sorts of things.”
Cue Card – Joe Tizzard has said that he believes the horse is in better shape now, than he was for the race 12 months ago, “”I rode him out the other morning and he’s in cracking form. We’re going there with no pressure either. It’s a hot race, every race he runs in is a hot race. The forecast looks good and he’s going to get nicer ground than at Haydock. He bounces off the better ground over the longer trip. Kempton ground will be lovely, I think. He’s in better form than he was going into the race last year. He blew hard after Haydock and he’s come on for the run. He gave me lovely feel when I rode him out and I’m really pleased with him.” Daryl Jacob sees the glimmer too, “He has under-performed twice, but the Tizzards have been looking after this horse all his life and they’ll know what to do. Last year it looked like he had Silviniaco Conti beat until after the second last. I’m excited at the chance to help get the best out of him.” Connections seem hopeful, and it would be lovely to see them come away with a victory.
Dynaste – Third last time out behind Silvinico Conti and Menorah in the Betfair Chase, Dynaste will have to find some more to overturn the result. There’s no doubt the horse has some quality about him, and to see him cross the line first wouldn’t be a surprise. Connections have been quiet in the run up, and it seems he’s gone under the radar to a few. After the Betfair jockey Tom Scudamore said that he thought Dynaste would probably be better over a shorter trip. This is a furlong shorter, and it doesn’t look as though the ground will be too testing. One to keep an eye on for sure.
Menorah – With Dickie Johnson suspended, Tom O’Brien takes the reins on Menorah. The better ground is sure to suit too. Stable mate Wishfull Thinking also lines up with Barry Geraghty taking the ride. This is further than the Peterborough Chase which he won at the beginning of the month, and with his wind still a worry for connections, that would have to be a major doubt for his chances.
Silviniaco Conti – In many eyes, last years winner is the one to beat, but with the weather drying up, it might not be as straight forward as connections had first thought. Last time out trainer Paul Nicholls thought the horse was at his best, “To me he ran a career-best in last month’s Betfair Chase and the timing from that race to this is perfect. He’s come out of it well and he’s in a really good place with himself.” Jockey Noel Fehily said, “I was very impressed with him at Haydock in the Betfair. Paul Nicholls has been very happy with him since and he thinks he has him in the form of his life, so we are very positive going into the race and looking forward to it.”
Of the other runners, Double Ross, Wonderful Charm and Johns Spirit, you wouldn’t discount any of them at an each way bet. At this moment in time I’m edging towards Al Ferof. He was back to his best in the Amlin Chase and it looked like there would be more to come. His question mark is the distance and stamina, but Nicholls wouldn’t send him into the race if there was a doubt he could do it.