Our racing expert gives his verdict on the Boxing Day showpiece.
The King George VI Chase at Kempton (due off 3.05pm) is always the highlight of Christmas, for racing fans at least, and this year’s renewal promises to be no different as it features a mouthwatering clash between two up-and-coming chasers in Might Bite and BRISTOL DE MAI.
The former horse would have scored a wide-margin success in the novice chase on this card 12 months ago but for a final-fence fall and since then he’s gone unbeaten in four starts, despite attempting to join the spectators in the stands after the last in the RSA before rallying and beating stablemate Whisper a nose. That latter horse has done the form proud this season by finishing second in last month’s Ladbrokes Trophy, while Might Bite confirmed his well-being with an effortless comeback win at Kempton, where he was on his best behaviour.
He was quickly cut into 7/2 after that race and that price has gradually been whittled down since due to the shortfalls/changing plans of his key rivals, so much so that we’re now faced with a scrooge-like 6/4 (Unibet). That won’t stop many punters from lumping on him in the hope of making a dent in the Christmas expenses, but I won’t be one of them and given he has his quirks and the strength of the opposition, most of whom are rated higher and would be giving him weight were this a handicap, I’ve simply got to take him on.
The blindingly obvious alternative is Bristol De Mai, quite simply because he has the best form coming into the race, with his Betfair Chase demolition of Cue Card and the rest at Haydock still fresh in the memory, and is the best horse on the ratings (he is officially 11lb better than Might Bite). Yet despite those glowing recommendations some are questioning whether he can reproduce his very best in this race, pointing to the fact he’s done all his recent winning going left-handed and on much softer ground than he’s likely to encounter on Boxing Day. However, a Grade 1 success at Sandown and a second on good ground at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival suggests his doubters are clutching at straws and I’m very happy to take Unibet’s 4/1 that they are proved wrong.
As for the remainder, it’s easy to put a line through last year’s winner Thistlecrack after his laboured effort on his return from injury at Newbury recently. He might be fitter this time but sadly these chasers seldom come back as good after enforced layoffs and I’ll be very surprised if he gets anywhere near the front two.
I’m more concerned about his stablemate Fox Norton, although he does have his stamina for 3m to prove and while I think he might stay, there is a danger he could be left with too much to do if Team Tizzard employ even more patient tactics on him than is usually the case. I’ve always considered Kempton to be one of the best tracks in Britain for front-runners over fences, with the three fences down the short home straight meaning it’s hard to make up ground late on, and that’s another reason for siding with the selection as he likes to run his rivals ragged from the front.
It’s rare for the winner to emerge from outside the top four in the betting, but it would be wrong to dismiss out of hand the chances of the aforementioned Whisper on that basis alone as he’s coming off a career-best and has yet to finish out of the first two after seven starts over fences. The current 8/1 with Coral will be of interest to each-way punters then and he may well be a point or two shorter on the day.
But TEA FOR TWO is arguably even better each-way value at bet365’s 25/1 when you consider he was only three and a half lengths behind Thistlecrack 12 months ago and that was the only time he’s been beaten in four runs at this track. Granted, he’s looked well below par on a couple of outings this season, but he will appreciate returning to his favourite track and his shrewd trainer Nick Williams has probably had this race in mind all along. The rest are very hard to fancy.
All odds were correct at time of posting.