The Christmas period is fast approaching and the King George VI Chase is the jewel in the crown of a stacked festive racing programme.
Here we take a look at the major players...
Might Bite is the bookmakers’ idea of the most likely winner, and yet of those in with a major chance he arguably has the most to prove. The reason he is favourite is because he is undoubtedly a wondrous talent.
Since falling at the last when 18 lengths clear in the novice equivalent of the King George last year he has gone unbeaten, winning four races including Grade 1s at the Cheltenham and Aintree spring festivals and on his return at Sandown last month.
But he is also quirky. On top of that lapse in concentration at the last he nearly threw away that Cheltenham win. He turned in 12 lengths clear of Whisper but after the last he idled, then hung to the exit. In the process he lost the lead.
The fact he got back up is to his credit but playing up in a similar manner here would prove more costly. His temperamental nature is prominent enough champion trainer Nicky Henderson opted to bring him here via quieter waters to try and keep a lid on him and as a result he is as yet untested in open Grade 1 company - with both his wins at that level to date coming over fellow novices last season.
This is by far the stiffest test he has faced and he is a reckless enough character he could quite easily manage to find a way to blow an unassailable lead, but he also has the ability to blow the field apart.
Bristol De Mai
If Might Bite has the most to prove, Bristol De Mai may be the most underrated horse in the field. He certainly has more than his fair share of knockers, and yet if you delve through his form it is hard to work out quite why. At just six he is one of the youngest in the race, Might Bite did not see a racecourse until he was six, yet he is among the most accomplished.
At the age of four he was already running in Grade 1s with his trainer, the highly accomplished Nigel Twiston-Davies, comparing him to superstar Sprinter Sacre. It has taken him a while to fully develop, which is unsurprising given the age at which he burst onto the scene, and this year he seems to have come of age.
He won the Charlie Hall at Wetherby from stablemate Blaklion, form the runner-up has franked since, and last time out he ran away with the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock by a whopping 57 lengths - a record winning margin for a Grade 1 this millennium.
That was the race Kauto Star, Long Run, Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card have used en route to victory in eight of the last ten renewals and his best form has been produced on ground described as soft or heavy, so testing conditions would be further in his favour.
The year since winning last season’s edition has been as bad for Thistlecrack as the year preceding that win was excellent. In the 12 months prior to winning he won a further six times, including absolutely hacking up at both Cheltenham and Aintree over hurdles and then making a brilliant start to his chasing career culminating in becoming the first ever novice to win the King George.
Since then he has run just twice. On the first occasion he was beaten at Cheltenham by the tenacious but ill-fated Many Clouds. He was subsequently found to be injured and it meant missing the Gold Cup. On his comeback from injury, back over hurdles at Newbury at the start of the month, he was a disappointing fifth of six - beaten 13 lengths.
He ran promisingly for a long way but faded very tamely. That could just be a lack of fitness and if the 25 days he has had since have been enough to rectify that then he certainly has the talent. But if injury has robbed him of that extra gear he seemed to have at the end of his races then this could be a tough ask.
What will be there come the end of the race is the question surrounding Thistlecrack’s stablemate Fox Norton, but for very different reasons. Fox Norton does not have fitness concerns, he’s run six times in the last year and twice already this season with great credit, but rather due to stamina doubts.
Fox Norton has, until now, competed exclusively over shorter. He has only once run over a trip within half a mile of the King George’s and has spent the rest of his career racing over a trips more than three-quarters of a mile below that which he will encounter at Kempton. Given the King George is over three miles that is a sizable gap.
In the plus column his form over those shorter trips is pretty stellar, that one race over a bit further was the best performance of his career and a whole host of King George winners - Edredon Bleu, Kicking King, Kauto Star, Long Run and Cue Card - have come in with a similar profile with their biggest wins before their first King George coming over shorter.
If he takes to it and improves for the step up as they did, he is a major player. But it is a big if.
The King George always attracts a stacked field and several others deserve a mention. Whisper’s got closest to Might Bite so far, twice in fact, while the all-conquering Willie Mullins has long touted Djakadam for this but he disappointed last time and Ireland’s best hope may lie with the Noel Meade pair of Disko, a sensational jumper who should appreciate this speed test, and his stablemate Road To Respect.
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