PREVIEW: King George VI Chase
The Boxing Day spectacle that is the King George VI Chase is soon to be upon us and, with many of last year’s protagonists expected to return for another jaunt alongside some high-class race debutantes, it promises to be an exhilarating affair.
First run in 1937 and named to commemorate the newly-crowned King George VI, the 3 mile chase has been the making of some of horse racing’s most famous names. Four-time winner and former record holder, Desert Orchid (winner ‘86, ‘88, ‘89, ‘90) was only usurped by Kauto Star as recently as 2011 after romping to his fifth success in six attempts. The latter’s trainer, Paul Nicholls, has now tasted victory in this race on no less than eight occasions with See More Business (twice) and last year’s winner, Silviniaco Conti, adding to Kauto Star’s incredible haul.
Only nine runners made it to post last year with just five completing, although of those five, Dynaste, Al Ferof, Cue Card and eventual winner, Silviniaco Conti, should all be back again come December 26th. Paul Nicholls’ 8 year-old has already been involved in some special moments this season already. Lord Windemere’s last to first victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was nothing short of sensational, relegating Silviniaco Conti to fourth place in the final 200 yards, albeit by less than two lengths. His five length, fifth place defeat to Menorah in the Charlie Hall Chase was plenty enough to raise a few eyebrows, although he came back far better for the run and overturned that defeat just three weeks later to beat Menorah in the Betfair Chase by two lengths. The 5/2 shot is fancied to become the 14th horse to win this race more than once, although in a field of this calibre it will be far from a sure thing.
Cue Card’s bold bid to make a race of this last year was admirable, although his form since hasn’t touched that of last year in which he was a winner of both the Ryanair Chase and Betfair Chase. Daryl Jacob has taken over the reins from Joe Tizzard, a move that has yielded two fourth placed efforts in his only outings this year. He’s a horse which is never too far away, although the 12/1 price compared to 100/30 last year speaks volumes.
Following the publication of the whopping 37 horse declarations in early November, the Nicky Henderson-trained Simonsig had initially been installed by bookmakers as the early 5/1 favourite in spite of him missing the whole of the current campaign due to injury. He had been expected to make his return in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, although a lame spell during his preparation has seen him withdraw and his odds for the King George VI Chase drift into double figures. It isn’t surprising with doubts lingering as to whether he’ll even make it to the start line, coupled with the fact that this race would not only represent his first outing of the season, but also his first at the three mile trip.
With Simonsig’s run in doubt, Champagne Fever has been the name on everyone’s lips as far as race debutantes goes. He comes into the race as the in-form horse in the field having romped to a six length victory in the Clonmel Oil Chase and justifying his 8/11 favouritism. It’s interesting to note that he’s never finished outside the first three over two miles and will be tackling the three mile trip on Boxing Day for only the second time having won over the same distance on his debut in 2011.
Captain Chris ran a blinder back in 2012 finishing just a neck behind Long Run and was fancied by many to go one better in 2013. Unfortunately, a minor injury just days before the days forced him to withdraw, although since returning he’s been picking up impressive victories in very good company. Two wide-margin wins, the most notable being his 19 length canter in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase just a few weeks ago, have been enough to turn heads and his 12/1 price seems far too big for a ten year old that still retains a huge amount of ability.