King George VI Chase Preview

The King George VI Chase, run over three miles on the sharpish, flat track at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, is undoubtedly the highlight of the Christmas and New Year period for National Hunt fans. Following the retirement of five-time winner Kauto Star, this year’s renewal looks to be the most competitive and open for several years.

If official BHA ratings are to be believed, Nicky Henderson appears to hold all the aces for this year’s King George VI Chase. The Upper Lambourn trainer is responsible for the three highest rated entries, Long Run (178), Finian’s Rainbow (173) and Riverside Theatre (170) and must have decent prospects of carrying off at least some of the £180,000 prize fund. However, all three horses have questions to answer for one reason or another.

Long Run has been a beaten favourite on his last four starts in Grade 1 company, including in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on his seasonal reappearance last month, and is starting to become disappointing. He beat Riverside Theatre by 12 lengths in the rearranged King George VI Chase, and Denman by 7 lengths in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in the 2010/11 season, but it would be fair to say that he hasn’t looked quite the same horse in five starts since.

He was beaten by Kauto Star in both the Betfair Chase and the King George VI Chase last season and, after struggling to beat Burton Port on favourable terms in the Denman Chase at Newbury, could only finish third, beaten 3 lengths, by the ill-fated Synchronised in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He actually finished last season with a BHA rating 4lb lower than he started it and again failed to impress when finishing second, beaten 2½ lengths, behind Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase this time around. He’s yet to finish out of the first three in 23 races over hurdles and fences and, as a 7-year-old, still has time on his side, but at odds of 7/2, or shorter, he hardly represents value.

Finian’s Rainbow won the Queen Mother Champion Chase, over 2 miles, at Cheltenham last March and followed up in the Melling Chase, over 2 miles 4 furlongs, at Aintree in April. However, he’s untried beyond 2 miles 4 furlongs and was bitterly disappointing, albeit on heavy ground, on his seasonal debut at Ascot last month. Eight out of the last 10 winners of the King George VI Chase had previously won over 3 miles, or further, so even at a top-priced 14/1 he’s hard to enthuse about.

Riverside Theatre has won three Grade 1 chases at, or around, 2 miles 5 furlongs, but has raced just twice over further. He finished second, beaten 12 lengths, behind Long Run in this race two seasons ago and was pulled up in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree last April, so he’s hard to recommend at a top-priced 8/1, especially as he’s been off the course for 258 days.

In the absence of Kauto Star, Paul Nicholls has two entries, Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Al Ferof and Kauto Star’s half-brother Kauto Stone. Al Ferof is the better fancied of the two, at a top-priced 6/1, despite never having won beyond 2 miles 4½ furlongs over regulation fences. He did, however, win a maiden point-to-point over 3 miles, on soft to heavy going, in Ireland earlier in his career, so he’s unlikely to fail through lack of stamina.

Nevertheless, Al Ferof is still rated 3lb inferior to his stable companion Kauto Stone, who won the Grade 1 Champion Chase over 3 miles at Down Royal, on yielding to soft ground, in early November and is available at a top-priced 16/1. The second at Down Royal, First Lieutenant, did the form no harm when finishing third, beaten 8¾ lengths, in the Hennessy Gold Cup, over 3 miles 2½ furlongs, at Newbury on his only subsequent start.

Admittedly, Kauto Stone has plenty to find with Finian’s Rainbow, Riverside Theatre and Sizing Europe on last season’s form, but none of them are likely to be as potent over 3 miles as they are over shorter, so his current odds appear quite generous. Of course, he still has 16lb to find with Long Run on official BHA ratings, but it’s debatable if Long Run is worthy of his current rating of 178.

If Kauto Stone appears overpriced then so, too, does Mouse Morris’ 7-year-old First Lieutenant, who finished just 1 length behind at Down Royal, but can be backed at 40/1 in a place. First Lieutenant has finished second on all three starts at, or around, 3 miles, all at Grade 1 level and remains relatively unexposed as a staying chaser. Nicky Henderson presumably has a pretty good line to him through Bobs Worth, who beat him in the Hennessy Gold Cup and the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last March, but 3 miles on a flat track should suit admirably and he’s far from a forlorn hope.

Colin Tizzard’s 6-year-old Cue Card was beaten what’s starting to look a highly respectable 7 lengths by Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham in March and was impressive when strolling home by 26 lengths in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his seasonal reappearance in early November. He’s been off the course since, but more of a problem is likely to be the fact that he’s never raced beyond 2 miles 4 furlongs. As a result, his current odds of 7/1 make little appeal.

Willie Mullins’ 6-year-old Sir Des Champs was put firmly in his place by Flemenstar on his seasonal debut at Punchestown recently, but was unbeaten in five races over fences last season, including the Jewson Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. It’s debatable exactly what he achieved when winning the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown last April, but he at least proved his stamina over 3 miles. He’s another who looks overpriced at his current odds of 14/1.

In terms of a selection, Long Run obviously remains the one to beat, but he faces a bevy of progressive sorts and may need to be at his very best to repel them all. Back at 3 miles, First Lieutenant must be worth another chance to confirm the promise he’s shown over staying trips so far, followed by Kauto Stone and Sir Des Champs, in that order of preference.

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  1. I think that Sir Des Champs had a nice pipe opener in the John Durkan Chase, this is what his trainer had to say after the race.
    Willie Mullins: “Sir Des Champs never looked like winning today but he should improve for the race and going back up in trip, whenever that happens, won´t inconvenience him.”

    I believe he has the class to win the King George enroute to winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup where he is currently a best priced 7/1 with Ladbrokes.

    1. He has Tony, this article was actually written before Al Ferof was ruled out but has only just been published, my apologies.

  2. What about Grands Crus can he get back to his best on yielding ground. An each way price must hold some value if Pipe runs him

      1. I would like a price on the early tissue except I am at odds as to the ground conditions on the day. If it turns out soft at Kempton I would not back GC and may go for a reverse forecast of Long Run and K Stone. Its a tough call as the competition this year looks very tight. Cue Card looks fancied on the ante post betting exchanges. I am not really sure as to which route to go down but betfair say the supplementary market should be finalised by the 23rd Dec and we will know for sure which horses run and which horses will be pulled.

        I love trying to work out how a race will end. It used to be for financial reasons but now it is for the love of the races. Its like a great big ongoing puzzle always looking for clues to the forecast of a coming race.

        I have to say the racing dossier is a smart piece of kit Michael and well done. Keep up the good work.


        1. I started in the opposite, I started by wanting to solve the puzzle and then realised I could make some good financial gains from it. Pleased to hear you are using the Racing Dossier.

  3. W. Cohen sorry if I have miss spelled his name.
    Has done great things with Long Run not just in races but at home too I believe? Perhaps a little horse whisper may be the difference between 1st and 2nd.
    Jockey ability counts for a lot but a horse with quality and it’s own ability can still beat professional ridden horses in big races as Long Run has proved.
    Perhaps Weighing the possible contenders chances without jockeys in the puzzle. Could give the answer to who wins?
    Then add a value for each rider and remember how each of the contenders should be ridden to win this race.

    Nicky Henderson will have picked his Jockeys for his horses and instructed them as to how get the best out of their ride. As too would Paul Nichols. A jockey can see an opening and steer his mount but if the speed and fleet of foot is not there at that moment! The chance is missed.
    A horse can have an off day too, same a Human Jockey .

    My bet will be five minuets to the off the market maybe the best indicator to this race.
    With afew £2.00 wild outsider bets just in case a dark horse is lurking this year.
    Who has not run in this class? Any over for the race? And again,
    Ŵith weather considerations, which has the stamina for a heavy slog? With Al Ferof out ? The Market might just get it right.

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