At the top of the wish list for all National Hunt Racing fans this Christmas is to find the winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton. This year’s race, once again sponsored by William Hill, promises to be even more mouth-watering than the previous days Christmas dinner and it is the jewel in the crown of the William Hill Winter Festival at Kempton. For more information on the history of this great race – What is the King George VI Chase? Last year’s renewal delivered an impressive performance from Silviniaco Conti who dictated a strong pace and jumped his rivals in submission. He never looked in any danger in the closing stages and his tactics had clearly blunted the potential turn of foot of good horses such as Cue Card and Champagne Fever. It was a superb piece of jockeyship from Noel Fehily and a fantastic performance from the horse himself to defend his crown and land his second King George. Silviniaco Conti went on to disappoint in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival and he was no match for Cue Card in the Betfair Chase on his last outing. However, he cannot be written off having recorded back to back victories in the race and this will have been his main target. He will be absolutely spot-on come Boxing Day and make no mistake that this race is Silviniaco Conti’s Gold Cup. He is still only 9 and has not become a bad horse overnight. I can’t help but feel that he is being overlooked slightly in the betting for this race. The big three players for the race at present are Don Cossack, Vautour and Cue Card. Don Cossack confirmed himself as a chaser of the highest order last season when landing multiple Grade One’s including the Punchestown Gold Cup and the Melling Chase at Aintree. He has returned this season in rude health by blowing away his rivals at Punchestown and Down Royal. His trainer Gordon Elliot has always spoken highly of him and he looks to be getting better with every run and is a worthy favourite for this, given his official rating of 180. In any ordinary renewal of this race he would go off a fairly short price and the sharp track should also place to his strengths at this trip. However, this is no ordinary renewal. If all of the big players that have been entered turn up on Boxing Day, it promises to be an incredible race, the likes of which jump racing fans have not seen for many years. Willie Mullins Vautour will no doubt be very well supported. He is the apple of Willie’s eye and was unbelievably impressive when winning the JLT Novices Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. A previous winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle, Vautour clearly has plenty of speed and so the sharp track should play to his strengths. However, some concerns have been raised about his tendency to jump out to the left, a trait which he displayed when narrowly beating Ptit Zig at Ascot on his reappearance, despite being in receipt of 5lbs. That form has also taken a slight knock with Ptit Zig having been beaten in the Peterborough Chase. There is little doubt though that he would have been undercooked for his seasonal re-appearance and he is likely to come on a great deal for that run, particularly as he was made to work for the victory. He will be much fitter on Boxing Day but given the quality of the opposition he faces, his tendency to jump out to the left and his disappointing performance on Boxing Day last year at Leopardstown, he is too short in the betting for this year’s King George and I feel that he will be more in his element in the spring at the Cheltenham Festival. The greatest Christmas present for all National Hunt Racing fans would be to see last year’s Gold Cup hero Coneygree take his chance in the race. He needs to be supplemented for the race following an error which led to him not being entered. There are some doubts hanging over his well-being as he has had a slight foot injury and having been taken out of the Hennessy following an unsatisfactory schooling session. However, in the absence of any further negative reports, one would have to presume that he has come back to himself and if he has then I would strongly urge connections to let him take his chance in the race. Coneygree was a facile winner of last year’s Kauto Star Novices Chase run over the same course and distance as The King George and on the same day. In blowing away his rivals Coneygree recorded a time that was just 1.7 seconds slower that that recorded by Silviniaco Conti. That was remarkable really given that the King George was ridden at a strong pace with a field of 10 high class and mostly Grade One winning chasers. Coneygree on the other hand had just six rivals which weren’t even in the same league as him on the day; two fell and one unseated. Coneygree put their jumping to the test from flag fall and cruised home in his own time and so to record a time very close to that recorded in the King George is testament to his ability. He then went on to deploy the same tactics in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, with the same result. That race has worked out unbelievably well and if Coneygree turns up here then his rivals are going to find out what he is all about. I firmly believe that should he take his chance in the race he will do to his rivals what Silviniaco Conti did in last year’s race, but to even more devastating effect and against an even stronger field. So let us hope that he is sound and well and that we’ll be set up for a truly fantastic race on Boxing Day!
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