The countdown is now in full swing to the festive season, and once the Christmas Day meal has been polished off, there will be many punters looking at their race-reading material to pick out the winner of the big event at Kempton on Boxing Day. Here we’ll consider several of the main protagonists for this high-profile race to try and point readers in the correct direction for their wager.
Leading the current ante-post market for the three-mile contest is the Paul Nicholls trained Silviniaco Conti [pictured]. The eight-year old is looking to emulate former stable mate – and five time winner Kauto Star - by being the first horse since to win back-to-back King George’s.
Silviniaco Conti began the season with a pipe-opener in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. After leading for the majority of the race, the gelding faded to finish fifth behind the eventual winner Menorah. Conti gained his revenge over the Phillip Hobbs’ trained horse at Haydock in the Betfair Chase with a two-length win over Menorah in a commanding performance. Silviniaco Conti has no real ground issues for the Boxing Day clash as the horse has winning form on all conditions from good to soft, and looks certain to play a leading role in this years’ renewal.
The real unknown of the race is the rapidly improving second-season chaser, Champagne Fever, trained by Willie Mullins. Champagne Fever shot to fame with a win in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, and his since embarked on a chasing career. Campaigned in the main over the minimum trip last season, the eight-year old gelding was not seen to greatest effect despite a narrow defeat to Western Warhorse in the 2014 Arkle Chase at the festival.
It was obvious that the Mullins horse needed more of a stamina test, and with an easy win in the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase back in November over 2m4f, it proved beyond doubt that longer trips will be his forte. Champagne Fever still has over a stone to find in the official ratings however, and this will be his first race with the big boys; however you write off any Willie Mullins horse off at your peril.
Paul Nicholls is likely to be double-handed in the King George as Al Ferof could take his chance once again. The nine-year old, owned by John Hales finished 14 ½ lengths behind Silviniaco Conti in last years’ event, but will be hoping for an improved effort this time around. Ruby Walsh was on-board the likeable grey when claiming the Grade 2 Amlin Chase back in November at Ascot. That was over 2m3f though, and it is still doubtful if Al Ferof can stay the strong paced three miles around Kempton.
As already stated, Menorah has performed with great credit this season by winning the Charlie Hall Chase and runner-up in the Betfair Chase. Provided those two races haven’t taken too much out of the nine-year old, another bold bid can be expected on Boxing Day. Menorah was pulled-up in this race back in 2013, but had previously been unbeaten in his three other starts at Kempton during his career. The Hobbs gelding is a lively each-way contender, who has the ability to rustle up the big boys.
Best of the rest
Looking at the other potential runners, the likes of Cue Card and Dynaste are on recovery missions if lining up at Kempton. Cue Card was eyeballed by Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase and his jumping capitulated, while Dynaste ran with some credit at Haydock, but faded as the race got serious. Both are capable of turning the formbook upside down though, so market confidence should be a guide to their chances.
You have to go to Edredon Bleu’s King George win back in 2003 for a 25/1 surprise, so it is highly likely that the winner will come from the six mentioned above. Of those, Silviniaco Conti holds the key to the race. He has the form in the book by being a previous winner and has proven his recent health with his win at Haydock, so he deserves to have a favourite’s chance. Champagne Fever is the unknown, but he cannot be backed with huge confidence because of his lack of experience at the highest level. Menorah has cast-iron place claims, while Dynaste cannot be ruled out.