The King George VI Chase is run over three miles at Kempton Park racecourse on Boxing Day, and is one of the highlights of the National Hunt season during the festive period. The grade 1 race attracts the top chasers, with prize money of almost £200,000 up for grabs, and it’s a strong field for the race again this season.
Paul Nicholl’s horse, Silviniaco Conti won the race last year, and has a great chance of defending his crown, after winning the Betfair Chase in November with several of Friday’s rivals behind him. The Champion trainer has won the race eight times, and he’s also represented this year by Al Ferof and Wonderful Charm.
Silviniaco Conti – +250 with William Hill
The high-class chaser showed his ability when he outgunned Menorah and Dynaste in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, and he will have been targeted at this one all year. He won in good style last year, beating Cue Card into second and has all the tools to win the race again this time around. He is a sound jumper and is obviously comfortable with both the course and distance. Nicholl’s has stated that the drying ground is not a huge concern, and jockey Noel Fehily is in bullish mood, saying, “It was a good performance in the Betfair and if he reproduces something like that, hopefully he goes there with a big chance”.
Top Irish trainer Willie Mullins sends over Champagne Fever, who is bidding to land the prize for Mullin’s for the first time since Florida Pearl’s success in 2001. It’s nine years since any Irish runner took the King George, but Champagne Fever looks to have a very good chance. The former winner of the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novice’s Hurdle, almost nailed a Cheltenham hat trick when he was just beaten in the Arkle Trophy last season. He made a cracking reappearance in the two-and-a-half mile Clonmel Oil Chase, and Mullin’s is perfectly happy with his horse ahead of the big race. This is the first time he’s tackled three miles though, and he has to prove he has the stamina for it. Mullin’s thinks he’ll get it well enough, saying, “Everything suggests he wants three miles plus”. Presuming he gets the trip the bold-jumping grey will push Silviniaco Conti all the way.
Paul Nicholl’s second runner in the race is Al Ferof, and he ran a big race last year to finish third behind his stablemate. Nicholls says he’s much better within himself this year, and that was apparent when he won the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot over an inadequate 2 miles 3 furlongs on his reappearance. The drying ground will also be in his favour, and if it turns to genuine good ground his chances will improve considerably. Nicholl’s feels that his charge still needs to prove he can stay three miles, but believes that if he’s at his best, he will do.
Cue Card was joint-favourite with Dynaste last year after the two finished first and second in the Betfair at Haydock, but they finished 2nd and 5th respectively in last year’s race. The Colin Tizzard trained horse was a disappointment in this year’s Betfair Chase and also on his reappearance previously at Exeter, and he goes into the race with something to prove. Former jockey, Joe Tizzard, who is now assistant to his father, said that he thought he had the King George wrapped up last season at one point, before Cue Card “stopped underneath” him after the second-last. He feels that Cue Card will strip fitter for the runs at Exeter and Haydock, and hinted that there may be a change of tactics to drop the horse in behind others rather than trying to make all from the front.
Phillip Hobbs is represented in the race by Menorah and Wishful Thinking, and the former can be given a good chance on the basis of his two-length second behind Silviniaco Conti at Haydock. Hobbs is hopeful of a big run, saying that Menorah is in the form of his life, and having won at Kempton before, believes the track will suit. He has also stated that he wouldn’t want the ground too soft, so if it continues to dry out, his chances will improve. Normal jockey Richard Johnson is sidelined so Tom O’Brien steps in to take the ride.
David Pipe trains Dynaste and he could be another in with a good each-way chance. He finished third behind Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase, but will have to improve considerably on last year’s race when he was a distant 5th, and the last to finish. Jockey Tom Scudamore is confident about his chances, saying that he’s up there with the best chasers in the country. Trainer, David Pipe is less confident, however, and said that although he’s in good order and will go on any ground, he’ll need to raise his game significantly to feature in the King George. The trainer is quoted as saying, “…if you want my view, it’s that he’s unlikely to up his game enough to win it”.
Those are the main contenders for the race, and the other four runners – Wishful Thinking, John’s Spirit, Wonderful Charm, and Double Ross can all be backed at +2500 or more.
Silviniaco Conti is a worthy favourite, he’s in good form after winning the Betfair, he will handle the ground, the course and the distance, and has already proven that he is a very capable jumper. In a race like this where a strong pace is almost guaranteed, it’s important to have a horse who can jump soundly at a high cruising speed, and with question marks over some of the others, he looks the best bet of the day.
King George VI Chase
Kempton Park Racecourse, 3.10pm 26th December 2014
Silviniaco Conti to win – +250 with William Hill
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