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2018 King George VI Chase tips - Tizzard's 9/1 chance can Crack his Kempton rivals to regain his crown

Thistlecrack can recapture past glories in the upcoming King George VI Chase.

Brian Healy assesses some of the possible runners who could feature in the upcoming King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas.

There is plenty of top-class festive fayre to look forward to in the horse racing calendar, with the week between Christmas and New Year packed solid with cracking racing action across the UK and Ireland.

Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival meeting which features multiple Grade One races, the Welsh Grand National and the Rowland Meyrick Chase are just a few of the highlights punters can look forward to; but the undoubted feature of the week goes to post on Boxing Day with the latest renewal of the famous King George VI Chase at Kempton.

Getting underway at 3.05pm, the three-mile contest is sure to serve up another Christmas cracker as some of the biggest names come together to contest this top-class event which boasts a first-prize in excess of £140,000 and the chance to join such luminaries as Cue Card, Silviniaco Conti, Kauto Star, Long Run, Kicking King, Edredon Bleu and Best Mate who have all won this race since the turn of the century.

Nicky Henderson won this prestigious prize twelve months ago with his Might Bite (7/2, Boylesport) who is likely to return to Kempton on Boxing Day in a bid to defend his title and straighten out the dent his reputation took when disappointing in the Betfair Chase recently.

The Scorpion gelding looked a transformed individual last term from the horse which fell here two seasons ago when holding the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase in his grasp; and his subsequent conspiring with himself to almost gift stablemate Whisper an unlikely RSA Chase win showed worrying temperament.

He set the record straight at Aintree on his next outing, and his subsequent wins at Sandown and in this race twelve months ago were largely without drama although he did appear to idle in front when taking this prize from the resolute Double Shuffle who finished strongly.

Following his pulsating duel in the Gold Cup with Native River, where he had looked the stronger turning in only to be outbattled by Colin Tizzard’s star, he resumed winning ways at Aintree with a defeat of Bristol De Mai. He had no answer to the same rival on his return however at Haydock, finishing last of five runners.

It was a bitterly disappointing effort, with a short-lived challenge quickly ending and he trailed home a tired horse having possibly needed that first run. Afterwards, Henderson was at a loss to explain the poor performance, pointing towards the stiff obstacles as a possible reason. 

He had looked well beforehand, and while the lack of a run is a possible excuse, he can’t be dismissed from bouncing back at Kempton.

Might Bite and Native River could renew rivalry again in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.


He could lock horns again with Native River (8/1, Coral), who like his old adversary would come on for that reappearance effort, and the Gold Cup hero would be a danger to all if handling a much sharper Kempton than the stiffer, more galloping courses where he has posted his best efforts.

The Indian River gelding was beaten behind Tea For Two on his only previous start at the Sunbury venue when still a novice, and he also tasted defeat behind Blaklion at Wetherby on his next outing. However, having found only Minella Rocco too strong in the 2016 National Hunt Chase, he won at Aintree with a defeat of Henri Parri Morgan to claim top honours in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase.

He has gone from strength to strength since, producing an excellent weight-bearing performance to win the Welsh Grand National having previously captured the then-Hennessy Gold Cup, and he wasn’t beaten far behind Sizing John in that season’s Gold Cup.

He won both starts last term, and he made a sasifying return to action when chasing home Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase; he’ll come on significantly for that effort, but a test of speed around this much sharper venue likely won’t play to the Gold cup hero’s strengths.

A similar comment could be aimed at Bristol De Mai (8/1, BetVictor) who had looked ill-at-ease around the Kempton turns when finishing a well-beaten sixth in this race twelve months ago behind Might Bite.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge had won both starts previously at Wetherby on his return in the Charlie Hall Chase, and then sluicing through heavy ground to win his first Betfair Chase. Following his heavy defeat in this race, he finished a well-beaten third in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, after which he underwent wind surgery prior to chasing home Might Bite again, this time at Aintree when finding that rival too strong in the Betway Bowl.

Having missed an intended engagement in the Charlie Hall Chase, he maintained his unbeaten record at Haydock despite the conditions perhaps not being wholly ideal by beating both Native River and Might Bite, and open up a potential £1million bonus; but his overall record against both those rivals suggest he has his work cut out to uphold that Haydock form.

While he is a classy performer, he has shown Haydock to be a happy hunting ground; but away from the Merseyside track he perhaps isn’t quite the same force, and Kempton again may find him out.

Bristol De Mai's Betfair Chase win sets Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge up for a crack at £1million bonus.


Perhaps one to take out of the Betfair Chase was THISTLECRACK (9/1, Coral) who won this race in 2016, and Colin Tizzard’s charge made a very pleasing return at Haydock having been out for almost one year through injury.

The 2016 World Hurdle winner won his first four starts over fences, including this race when beating Cue Card prior to losing his unbeaten chase record when denied by a head behind Many Clouds in the Cotswold Chase. Oliver Sherwood’s Grand National winner sadly died soon after the race, and nothing can be taken away from the gutsy winner; Thistlecrack however was found to have sustained an injury in the heat of battle, while a relatively busy novice campaign may just have taken the edge from him.

He shaped well in this race last term following a dismal return over hurdles in the Long Distance Hurdle, beaten around six lengths having ultimately surrendered all chance of successfully defending his crown with a mistake at the second last fence.

Having now had a pipe-opener in the Betfair Chase where he posted a satisfactory comeback to finish third, he could well build on that and he remains one to be interested in. He didn’t always jump with fluency at Haydock, and he was deliberate at his fences on more than one occasion; but he showed more than enough to suggest most of his old ability remains intact, and he probably still has more to offer over fences.

Clan Des Obeaux (33/1, Paddy Power) is another meanwhile who represents the Betfair Chase form, and Paul Nicholls’ charge travelled well for a long way in that contest before eventually finishing fourth, beaten around nine lengths.

The Kapgarde gelding had previously ran third behind Might Bite and Bristol De Mai at Aintree, and he is entitled to improve for his reappearance at Haydock although he’ll need to find a jolt of improvement if he’s to reverse the form with that leading pair.

Paul Nicholls earmarked this race for Politologue (8/1, William Hill) after the Poliglote gelding made a winning return to action to win the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot, and the seven-year old has developed into a high-class performer having won last season’s Haldon Gold Cup enroute to winning twice at Grade One level at Sandown and Aintree, beating Min on the latter occasion.

Twice beaten behind Altior (16/1, Paddy Power), including in the Champion Chase, he dug deep upped in trip to see off Min at Aintree prior to his narrow win over Charbel on his return to action. He kept on well from the last having put in a slow jump, and he is probably worth a crack at three miles on this relatively easy track given his strong-travelling tendency.

He hasn’t shaped like one that will appreciate three miles however, and this will represent a tougher test taking on the likes of Native River, Might Bite and Bristol De Mai who are all proven over three miles. 

Does Politologue have the stamina to see out three miles?


Conversely, Waiting Patiently (6/1, Boylesport) also has to prove stamina for three miles, but Ruth Jefferson’s charge could well thrive over the longer trip and the Flemensfirth gelding is one to be interested in if taking his chance.

Unbeaten over fences, which includes beating Politologue at Haydock, the northern raider lowered the colours of Cue Card to win last season’s Ascot Chase, scoring readily. It can be argued that Cue Card was perhaps past the peak of his powers, but it was hard not to have been impressed by the way the Jefferson runner breezed past him having travelled well into the race. Despite a tendency to hang on the flat, he always had enough in the tank to hold off Colin Tizzard’s veteran and the likes of Frodon (33/1, Boylesport) and Top Notch (25/1, Paddy Power).

Like Politologue, he is a strong traveller in his races, but he has more about him than Paul Nicholls’ charge who looks more of a grafter than Jefferson’s charge who showed a good turn of foot to put the race to bed at Ascot; while he has proven a sharp track such as Kempton holds no fears having won at the Sunbury track previously to winning at Ascot.

He could well be suited by the step up to three miles, but it would be a big test to win a race of such stature and against some top opposition on his return to action, and a niggling injury which prevented him pitching in at Aintree towards the end of last season has continued to prove troublesome.

Fit or otherwise, the ground at Kempton could well be the determining factor whether he takes his place, and having shown his best in softer ground he could well swerve this assignment if underfoot conditions are against him.

Willie Mullins could have a strong hand should the County Carlow trainer unleash the likes of Bellshill (14/1, William Hill) or Al Boum Photo, although both are yet to make an appearance this campaign.

The former could hold the strongest claims of a possible Closutton raid on the King George VI Chase prize, having won two of his last three starts which includes victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup having previously found the test of the Irish Grand National too much.

While he has ten lengths to make up with Might Bite from their clash in the 2017 RSA Chase, Willie Mullins’ charge could be better suited by a flatter track such as Kempton, and it would be no surprise to see him posting a big effort if taking his chance.

Bellshill could spearhead a strong Willie Mullins challenge for Kempton's festive feature.


Al Boum Photo (25/1, Ladbrokes) meanwhile was a faller in the RSA Chase back in March, although he was beaten at the time when departing; he had gone close the time before behind Monalee, and he bounced back from his fall to beat Shattered Love at Fairyhouse.

The Buck’s Boum gelding had looked set to collect again when inexplicably guided out of the race in the Growise Champion Chase. On the balance of his form however, he has more to find and he may be better at trips short of three miles.

The fast-improving Kemboy (33/1, Coral) meanwhile missed an engagement at Newbury following transport issues, but the Voix Du Nord gelding could be one to consider at a big price should the Closutton inmate pitch up in this race.

The progressive six-year old rounded off a mixed campaign last term with back-to-back wins at Limerick and Punchestown, and he ran out a ready winner of the Clonmel Oil Chase on his reappearance.

This would demand a further jolt of improvement to get involved, but he has time on his side and there could be better to come from him.

Coneygree (40/1, Ladbrokes) ran a blinder on his return to action at Cheltenham following injury, and Mark Bradstock’s charge would be dangerous to overlook if building on that effort.

The 2015 Gold Cup winner has been lightly raced since his greatest triumph, but his career has been blighted by a series of niggling injuries; he has run just six times since his Cheltenham Festival success, and while last campaign was a wash-out for the Karinga Bay gelding, he bounced back from those efforts following wind surgery to post an excellent third to Rock The Kasbah under a big weight.

He jumped from fence to fence on that occasion, only giving way on the run to the second last, and although he was ultimately well beaten off he kept on well to hold onto the bronze medal.

It remains to be seen whether he can back up that effort, but despite being an eleven-year old now, he remains relatively low mileage, and he gave the impression at Cheltenham that he was no back number despite his advancing years.

Whether he still retains enough ability to remain a force at Grade One level is open to question,but he can give a good account of himself if turning out, and he has course winning form from his younger days here having won the 2014 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

Does Coneygree still have the ability to be a Grade One winner after his injury troubles?


Black Corton (33/1, Paddy Power) found the test of the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase too much, with the searching pace and soft ground over the longer trip probable factors in his defeat. He has proven himself to be a solid performer, winning a novices’ Grade One event at Kempton last Boxing Day prior to beating Ms Parfois over three miles at Ascot.

He’ll be better suited dropping back to the three miles, but he looks up against it taking on top-class rivals.

Double Shuffle (40/1, Boylesport) couldn’t quite manage to match the level he showed in finishing runner-up in this race twelve months ago in subsequent outings, beating only one home behind Might Bite at Aintree and then struggling to land a blow behind Top Notch at Sandown.

He was a faller on his return in the Charlie Hall Chase, getting no further than the first fence and he’s no certainty to be able to replicate his run in this race twelve months ago where he may have been flattered.

Tea For Two (50/1, William Hill) similarly struggled in the wake of his third-place finish in the race twelve months ago, and the Kayf Tara gelding pulled up in two of his four subsequent outings. Of those he completed, he was beaten forty lengths behind Native River in the Gold Cup and a similar distance in the Betway Bowl and there appears no reason why he can fare better against either this time around.

Noel Meade-trained trio Road To Respect (16/1, William Hill), Disko and Snow Falcon could add further spice to the race with the former a possible runner following his win in the JNWine.com Champion Chase.

The Gamut gelding won the 2017 Brown Advisory Plate at the Cheltenham Festival prior to winning a Grade One as a novice with a defeat of Yorkhill. He went on last term to win the Christmas Chase - formerly the Lexus Chase - enroute to finishing a creditable fourth in the Gold Cup, and he ran another solid race behind Bellshill at Punchestown on his final start.

He has the benefit of that recent win at Down Royal under his belt, and while he could well contest at Leopardstown over Kempton, he would be dangerous to discount if pitching up at the Sunbury track.

Road To Respect could go well at a big price in the King George VI if taking in Kempton over Leopardstown.


Disko (33/1, Paddy Power) meanwhile hasn’t been seen since winning at Down Royal last November, beating Ballyoisin in the Mycarneedsa.com Chase; he had won previously over three miles with a defeat of Anibale Fly at Punchestown and he remains with scope as a chaser.

Snow Falcon (33/1, William Hill) has got his act together over fences in recent outings, winning his last two starts which include a defeat of Shattered Love () to win the latest renewal of the Mycarneedsa.com Chase; he hasn’t been fully convincing over three miles or beyond, and shorter trips may see him in a better light.

VERDICT


Plenty to chew upon in the days leading up to this fantastic Grade One contest, and defending champion Might Bite could prove a different proposition following his disappointing reappearance at Haydock.

Native River ought to come on for his own reappearance behind Bristol De Mai in the same Haydock contest, but both those horses may just find Kempton too sharp once again, and both have tasted defeat at this venue in the past. 

Politologue along with Waiting Patiently both have stamina to prove at three miles, so THISTLECRACK (9/1, Coral) could well be one to side with on the back of his own encouraging reappearance behind Bristol De Mai and Native River in the recent Betfair Chase.

Colin Tizzard’s charge finished fourth in the race twelve months ago on the back of a disappointing run at Newbury on his first start back from injury; but he caught the eye with his latest comeback where despite putting in some decidedly slow leaps, he remained competitive and kept on well having lost ground four out to snatch third.

That run suggested he retained plenty of ability still following his last injury, and likely to come on for the outing he can prove himself to still be capable of top-class form at this level. The 2016 winner of this race could well prove a value alternative to Nicky Henderson’s defending champion, and he can go well on the back of his reappearance.

At bigger odds, Noel Meade’s Road To Respect (16/1, William Hill) could be worth an each-way nibble if electing to line up here instead of Leopardstown, and the Gamut gelding proved his well-being with a bloodless victory in the JNWine.com Champion Chase.

Fourth in last season’s Gold Cup behind Native River and Might Bite, he could have more to offer as a chaser and the improving seven-year old could post a big run if taking in this engagement.

2018 KING GEORGE VI CHASE SELECTION - THISTLECRACK (9/1, Coral), Road To Respect (16/1, William Hill, each-way


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2018 King George VI Chase tips - Tizzard's 9/1 chance can Crack his Kempton rivals to regain his crown

Brian Healy assesses some of the possible runners who could feature in the upcoming King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas.

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