Outside of the Cheltenham Festival, it doesn’t get any bigger than the King George VI Chase at Kempton. The Boxing Day spectacular sparks memories of ‘Dessie’, ‘King Kauto’ and that incredible battle between Cue Card and Vautour, but just who is going to add themselves to the history books in this year’s wide-open renewal? We look at the major contenders:
The defending champion, the Gold Cup runner-up and winner of seven of his eleven chase starts .. so why is Might Bite as big as 7/2 for this year’s King George? His laboured last place finish in the Betfair Chase had not only punters scratching their heads, but also his trainer Nicky Henderson. Said to be in brilliant form heading into the race, Might Bite put in a couple of iffy jumps early on, before fading alarmingly late on to finish 29 lengths behind winner Bristol De Mai. There’s no doubting this 3-mile test around Kempton suits Might Bite down to the ground and if the champion trainer can get him back to his best he’s by far the most likely winner, but it’s a big IF.
If the King George was raced at Haydock Park, we’d have an odds-on favourite and there’d be no need to write this article, it’d be simple for punters to pile into Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Bristol De Mai. The good-looking grey has the form in the book to win a King George, but that form comes largely at Haydock and he cannot be trusted to produce the same level at Kempton on Boxing Day. A demolition job in the Betfair Chase last season was followed by a lacklustre 26-length beating in the King George. Expect a similar outcome this year.
The joker in the pack; we’ve certainly had to wait patiently to see the best of Ruth Jefferson’s stable star as he doesn’t stand too much racing, but he’s been worth the wait so far. He came of age last season at Ascot in the Ascot Chase, defeating Cue Card with ease, impressing with the way he travelled through the race like a genuine grade one star. This seven-year-old has now won his last seven races and with such low mileage there’s surely more improvement to come. So what’s the catch? The King George is often a true test of stamina and fitness and Waiting Patiently is yet to run this season which could catch him out, but a very strong record when fresh will give connections hope of a famous Christmas success.
The Gold Cup winner ran an encouraging seasonal reappearance behind Bristol De Mai at Haydock last month which you would expect to put him spot on for Boxing Day, but it’s a nagging doubt that this sharper test around Kempton will really play into the hands of Colin Tizzard’s strong stayer. He hasn’t run at Kempton since a thrashing by Tea For Two in 2015 and whilst he has improved significantly since then, he can passed over this time, but keep him on your radar for the big one in March.
Talking of Colin Tizzard’s chasers, there isn’t a horse in this race that could live with Thistlecrack on his day, as shown in the 2016 edition of this race which saw him defeat Cue Card with ease despite being a novice. Sadly things have not gone his way since that famous day with numerous injuries blighting his career. He ran an encouraging comeback in the Betfair Chase, but his jumping let him down that day and whilst it would be a hugely popular success, he doesn’t look the force of old and we can pass him over from a betting point of view.
Paul Nicholls certainly knows what it takes to win the King George, with two his of stars Kauto Star and Silviniaco Conti having seven victories between them and he will be hoping Politologue can add his name to the illustrious roll of honour. An impressive win at Ascot to start his campaign isn’t enough to convince that he is quite up to winning a King George with a serious question mark over his ability to stay the trip.
Verdict: With questions marks over Might Bite, it’s time for a new star to grab the chasing scene by the scruff of the neck and with the style of his Ascot Chase success standing out, WAITING PATIENTLY is selected to defy the absence and come out on top at Kempton on Boxing Day.