KING GEORGE VI CHASE
By Tom Boardman
Boxing Day has always been a day of great sport, great British sport. It bares its’ mantle as the day immediately following Christmas proudly. Full fixture lists up and down the country bring excitement to otherwise doughy-eyed worshippers. Bookmakers have barely told the punchline of their Christmas dinner cracker gags before accumulators are thrust in their face demandingly. It certainly is a day of sport that is awaited annually and seldom bettered. Although never itself a shrinking violet however, it this year steps out of the yuletide shadows and becomes the cornerstone of this festive period. In our sport of horse racing there’s a bit of a battle taking place this December 26th. The league of staying chasers has never been considered greater. At ten past three this Saturday afternoon football can take a back seat. This year racing reigns, this year Kempton is King.
Now we all know that the King George taking place on Boxing Day is not a new thing. We’re all aware that a high level of quality being on display is to be expected from one of the highlights of the British horse racing calendar. What we’ve been treated to this time around however, really is the stuff racing dreams are made of. We are only Arkle, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star away from having to actually pinch ourselves.
The legendary line up is headed by Irish raider Don Cossack. The Irish angle gives this years renewal a particularly fascinating edge and the top rated chaser in training certainly ticks all the right boxes. The race should be run to suit, with a hell for leather pace seemingly assured. It’s likely he could just be dropped in off the pace by young Bryan Cooper, bob along and let his stamina do the the talking.
In rivals Vautour and Cue Card, two likely to be at the head of affairs, he faces a pair with question marks over getting the trip. The pace factor is yet another hugely interesting issue in this. It’s not inconceivable that the aforementioned two, along with dual winner Silviniaco Conti and wild card Smad Place could all be after a share of it. The reigning champ, with stamina assured, may well let others get on with it and sit handy under Noel Fehily. One thing’s for sure, jumping will need to be at a premium.
One time favourite Vautour has seen his position at the head of the market slip since a relatively workmanlike defeat of Ptit Zig at Ascot. A repeat performance would make him impossible to fancy, although it had been quoted that he was only at 50% that day. The biggest concern for backers was his tendancy to jump left that day. Mesmerising at his very best maybe, but all of his very best have indeed been going left-handed. Mullins and co. seem unconcerned, I’m not sure others will share that confidence. The stamina question is less of a concern to me, as I’m sure he’ll be happy over 3 miles on decent enough ground. Losing ground by jumping left in a race that could be seen as the ultimate test of jumping though, is quite the turn off.
The resurrection of Cue Card has been one of the stories of the season thus far. I’m surprised epiglottis surgery isn’t top of everyones’ Christmas list. Colin Tizzard’s much loved 9 year old, along with both Smad Place and Al Ferof in this race alone have all reaped the benefits. Each have recorded 100% records since going under the knife. Someone’s 0 has got go…..
To some the question still looms over whether Cue Card truly sees out 3 miles. The way he stopped on the spot back in this in 2013 didn’t have the look of a non-stayer to me, more of a horse with a problem. Now these issues have been addressed I can’t foresee a problem, having already won over 3 miles plus twice this season. Hopefully his jumping can hold up. A win for him would most certainly bring the house down.
If Smad Place were to make all to win this (as he did so impressively in the Hennessy) you can almost hear the analysts cry ‘Shades of Desert Orchid!’ already. It’s a tough burden to have to bear, although judging by his Newbury performance, not one that’s beyond him. His bold front running display was majestic. It sent shivers down the spine and did bare an unfortunately uncanny resemblance to Dessie. There could well be improvement to come, although there’d need to be. Beating Theatre Guide and First Lieutenant does not a King George win. He is the wild card though, the joker in the pack. He could yet become the ace.
Silviniaco Conti returns to his old hunting ground rather bemused. He’s won the last two of these and seems to be the forgotten horse. The new kids on the block are here. The new generation has hit. Before Tom Segal got a hold of him he seemed the best bet here. He sat merrily at 12/1 and looked an absolute each-way bet to nothing. At 8/1 there remains value. With rain reportedly on the way that could soon disappear. If it gets tough out there and this turns in to a real ‘jump and grind’ we could well see just why he’s won two of these. I’m not having the argument that he’s a spent force. With Cheltenham not in his calendar this is his Gold Cup.
Of the rest of the field you could argue that Valseur Lido looks a big price at 25/1. Personally I’d say he’s a big price because he’s in hot company. Good horse but this is beyond him. Al Ferof has finished third in both of the last two runnings of this. Normally you’d give him a squeak following a good showing in the Peterborough, but once again this looks a better race than the previous two years. Third again would be a phenomenal achievement, albeit an unlikely one.
An incredibly difficult conundrum to solve then. The sheer spectacle will be enough for most, although those looking to get involved have a lot to take on board. The going for one could prove all important. Don Cossack seems to go on pretty much anything, although better going will suit Cue Card and Vautour, while the softer the better for Smad Place and Silviniaco Conti. The pace angle also cannot be discounted. Jumping at what is sure to be a breakneck gallop will be all important, so a sound jumper will be needed.
I can’t have Vautour on the basis that he could lose ground leaping to his left. If it’s been ironed out then I could end up with egg up on my face, but weighing everything up in a race this tight it’s enough to count him out. Silviniaco Conti looks a great price as an each-way prospect but for the win he looks potentially held on his best form. Improvement at this stage of his career is unlikely. Don Cossack appears the unknown quantity. I’m sceptical that he could have beaten tired rivals in the Punchestown Gold Cup following Cheltenham’s gruelling blue riband. The field he put to the sword in the Mildmay had the look of an exposed bunch also. He could be anything but looks too short for me and is worth taking on.
Cue Card is a rejuvenated figure and it could be that he could take this at the fourth time of asking, but a tentative vote goes to SMAD PLACE. Alan King’s eleventh hour decision to run him could be significant. The form of his Hennessy win may not amount to much, but the manner in which he won it couldn’t have been more dominant. It’ll be difficult to stamp that kind of authority on this field, although a similar performance would take any horse out of their comfort zone. He’d come forward for that run from his first outing this season and it may be that we’re just scraping the surface of the new Smad Place. The Hennessy and King George double is a rare occurence, not completed since Burrough Hill Lad some 31 years ago. History could be made this Saturday.
King George selection
Smad Place 9/1