15:05 Kempton – King George VI Chase
One of the biggest national hunt races outside of the Cheltenham Festival and very much seen as a precursor to The Gold Cup. This Grade 1 event is the jewel in the crown on a packed Boxing Day of racing and this years renewal looks to be one of the best in recent times. Of the ten runners set to go to post a total of eight have already won Grade 1 events. We have two former Gold Cup winners, a World Hurdle winner and this seasons Betfair Chase victor and yet none of them are favourite for the race.
Nine year old Might Bite looks set to go off as the clear short priced favourite as Nicky Henderson’s charge aims to retain his crown and redeem his lacklustre seasonal reappearance. He finished stone last at Haydock when making his return to action and simply has to improve. Seen very much as the main contender to scoop the Gold Cup prior to the start of the season a lot in the know are chalking off his last run as just a minor blip however it’s hard to be overly convinced based on his most recent showing and a lot has had to to change between then and now. Viewers have been very quick to jump to the horses defence and have previously claimed his jumping errors were due to a lack of experience and his run at Haydock was just a pipe opener. Despite winning this race last year you have to ask how many excuses can be made for a 9 year old who’s been competing at the highest level for the past few seasons? As one of the more senior runners in this years King George, he’s easy to take on and at such a short price represents zero value.
Horses that have beaten him before, Native River and Bristol De Mai have done nothing wrong and both showed much more in their previous meeting. It may be unfair to Bristol De Mai as it could well be the case that trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has worked the oracle and finally unlocked the key to his potential however I feel he had a lot of things in his favour last time and this looks a much tougher test than the five runner affair he won. I may well end up eating my words but it seems unlikely he’ll return to the winners enclosure again.
Native River is the reigning Gold Cup winner and didn’t finish too far behind Bristol De Mai on his seasonal bow. Richard Johnson stays on board Tizzard’s superstar and although theres a few questions to answer in regards to his liking for this venue he looks drastically overpriced as he’s surely a certainty to finish in the money isn’t he? The big dangers in this years race have to be the young upstarts in the form of Politlogue and Waiting Patiently. The latter makes his seasonal return after a long layoff which means he’s very much an unknown quantity but as he’s never finished outside of the first two in his career and he’s won at Kempton previously he demands a tonne of respect especially with murmurs that he’s potentially one of the best Northern trained chasers of all time. That in itself is note worthy praise and he’s a very big player indeed. Unlike Waiting Patiently, Politilogue has had the benefit of a recent run in which he won a competitive race at Ascot. He did well that day and the step up in trip looks a positive step but the level of opposition looks very different today and further improvement is going to be needed. If he is to claim a race like this however it wouldn’t be totally out of the question and it’d be silly to discount Nicholls’ runner so readily.
Both Thistlecrack and Coneygree have been there and done it as two former national hunt superstars on their day but may well be far from the forces of old. If either were to finish with their heads in front however the hopeless romantic in all of us will be overjoyed to see them add a further Grade 1 success to their brilliant resumes.
A race where a case can easily be made for the majority of the field but facing the facts you can’t seriously be convinced that the favourite is worth backing and to look for an each way selection has to be the only option. Waiting Patiently is the best of the younger duo and looks primed to push any horse that’s if he’s not hampered by such a lengthy absence. I couldn’t put people off Thistlecrack after his recent run but I think he may want further and the Gold Cup could be the answer and as such it’s his stable mate Native River who has ticked many of the boxes others haven’t. He’s ultra consistent, has beaten a host of these runners already, has the champion jockey in the saddle and is likely to improve upon his most recent run. If you can find an each way price about the eight year old then fill your boots.
NATIVE RIVER (E/W)
13:20 – Lough Derg Spirit (WIN)
13:55 – Santini (WIN)
14:30 – Buveur D’Air (WIN) – NAP
14:10 – Captain Chaos (WIN)