Festive value of Brief encounter

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The Independent Online
THIS year's King George VI Chase battle between established stars and young pretenders will be one to savour. The 11 contestants have won 96 races between them and experience is represented by Barton Bank, Algan and Val d'Alene. One Man, Merry Gale and Brief Gale are on the side of youth.

The Group One race will be the first level-weights venture in top senior company for the favourite, One Man, and victory will make him a superstar. His jumping has let him down in the past, but he was foot-perfect on 9 December at Haydock last time out. His performance that day oozed class, and his trainer, Gordon Richards, has him spot-on for Tuesday.

At seven, he is one of the youngest in the race, but an entry of the same age, the French challenger Algan, already has one King George to his name. He was left in front last year when Barton Bank famously unseated Adrian Maguire at the last, but the better of Francois Doumen's pair may be Val d'Alene, winner over course and distance on heavy ground in February.

Another seven-year-old, Jim Dreaper's Merry Gale, will bid to become the first Irish-trained winner since Captain Christy 20 years ago. He tuned up at Punchestown last month, and is a stronger horse than when he faded to fourth in the Gold Cup.

If Barton Bank could jump consistently well, he would be the undisputed champion. His technique has been sharpened, but with front-runners such as Dublin Flyer and Coulton in the field the pace will be electric and the pressure may be too much.

I will side with the younger brigade, and take ONE MAN to mow down Merry Gale. But his price of around 2-1 is skinny, and better value may be had each-way with Val d'Alene and Josh Gifford's lovely mare Brief Gale, a thorough soft-ground stayer.

The King George is just the centrepiece on a day of top-class racing. The Champion Hurdle contender River North makes his long-awaited hurdles debut in the opener but may have to give best to Shankar. Also look out for Hill of Tullow in the 1.15, Albemine in the 1.45 and Simple Arithmetic in the 2.50.