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This year's King George VI Chase could still prove to be one of the more competitive renewals of recent years but opposition to the the favourite, See More Business, is starting to melt away even before today's declaration stage for the Boxing Day feature.

This year's King George VI Chase could still prove to be one of the more competitive renewals of recent years but opposition to the the favourite, See More Business, is starting to melt away even before today's declaration stage for the Boxing Day feature.

The breadth of opportunities open to staying chasers at this time of year - providing the weather does not intervene - is one of the causes for the field cutting up. Marlborough, who looked prime King George and Gold Cup material when winning at Cheltenham last time, will be declared today but is more likely to run in the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby the following day. That is regarded by connections as a safer stepping stone towards his prime target at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown is another counter attraction and last year's King George runner-up, Go Ballistic, could be heading to the Foxrock course. Now with Richard Phillips, the gelding scored over hurdles on his last run at Cheltenham earlier this month.

The connections of Bobby Grant, who impressed in beating the Hennessy Gold Cup winner, King's Road, in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock last time, prefer a return visit to the Lancashire track and the Peter Marsh Chase on 20 January is the likely target.

As a result, William Hill have shaved See More Business to 11-8 favourite, while Ladbrokes are as short as 5-4 about the dual King George winner.

One contender who is still prepared to take on the favourite is Direct Route, who will certainly be among today's confirmations for the race and who will make the journey to Sunbury if the underfoot conditions indicate that the trip might be worthwhile.

"He'll be confirmed and we'll have a look," Direct Route's Co. Durham-based trainer, Howard Johnson, said yesterday. "But we'll not go down unless it's genuinely good ground."

Soft ground on the racecourse and waterlogged ground on the gallops delayed Direct Route's return to action this season but the nine-year-old eventually reappeared in the Tingle Creek Trophy at Cheltenham where he finished fifth behind Flagship Uberalles.

The Irish bookmakers Cashmans have opened betting on the Ericsson Chase and make Native Upmanship their 11-8 favourite following his victory over Florida Pearl in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown this month. With Nick Dundee, who also runs in the same colours - those of Susan Magnier - on 9-4 and the Hennessy Gold Cup third, Alexander Banquet, also likely to be in the line-up, the Irish have a formidable team to see off Go Ballistic and any other British challengers.

* To add to the 16 meetings lost to waterlogging already this month, yesterday's all-weather meeting at Southwell succumbed to the weather, thick fog making racing impossible.

KING GEORGE VI CHASE (Kempton, Boxing Day): Ladbrokes: 5-4 See More Business, 11-4 First Gold, 6-1 Florida Pearl, 7-1 Legal Right, 10-1 Beau, 12-1 Edredon Bleu, 14-1 Go Ballistic, 16-1 Lady Cricket, 20-1 Direct Route, Lord Noelie, Upgrade, 25-1 others. William Hill: 11-8 See More Business, 5-2 First Gold, 5-1 Florida Pearl, 8-1 Legal Right, 10-1 Edredon Bleu, 12-1 Beau, 16-1 Fadalko, Go Ballistic, 20-1 Direct Route, Lady Cricket, Lord Noelie, 25-1 others.

ERICSSON CHASE (Leopardstown, 28 December), Cashmans: 11-8 Native Upmanship, 15-8 Alexander Banquet, 9-4 Nick Dundee, 14-1 Dorans Pride, 20-1 Mickos Dream.

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