Racing: Confidence behind Brave challenge for King George

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For a horse with his bountiful credentials, Calling Brave seems to be coming in under the wire for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Sunday.

For a horse with his bountiful credentials, Calling Brave seems to be coming in under the wire for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Sunday.

The eight-year-old's form is such that the bookmakers have him as third favourite, while his trainer, Nicky Henderson, is the wise man of Sunbury's Christmas meeting, at which, rather unseasonably, he clearly believes it is better to receive than to give.

Henderson has recorded more winners (14 of them) at the meeting and more profit than any of his colleagues over the past five years, even though he has never managed to unwrap the feature race. Marlborough's second to Best Mate in the 2002 King George is his best result.

Now the recently qualified student Calling Brave steps forward. The former useful hurdler won his three completed starts over fences last season before unseating when in contention in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase. He was back at the sports at Sandown this month, when he finished second to Colonel Frank, giving 10lb.

"It was a decent performance last time, you have to look at the other horses who finished around him, Lord Sam and Murphy's Cardinal," Barry Simpson, racing manager to owner Sir Robert Ogden, said yesterday. "I would not be worried that he has had only five runs over fences as he jumps well, will be suited by the strong gallop and has won at Kempton before.

"We go into the race in form. He is the third favourite and we would be bitterly disappointed if he was not in the top three."

Lord Sam himself is likely to lock horns again on Boxing Day, as long as he comes through a piece of work on Victor Dartnall's gallops this morning, but the outlook is much less sunny for last year's winner, Edredon Bleu. The ground is currently too soft to allow the veteran to run.

Disease is the reason that virtually nothing will be emerging from Jonjo O'Neill's Jackdaws Castle for the foreseeable future. Quazar is engaged in the Feltham Novices' Chase on the King George card, but the rest of his stablemates are engaged in a battle with illness.

"It's bitterly frustrating," O'Neill said yesterday. "We're going to have a quiet time of it until the sickness clears up. A few are not right, not giving us the right signs and haven't scoped well. They are just not firing.

"There is simply no point in running horses that are below-par. It is not fair to them, the owners or to the public. We have to try and get rid of the sickness and, hopefully, that won't take too long. There were just too many horses not pleasing me."

Timmy Murphy will learn his immediate plans at the Jockey Club today when the jockey of the moment appeals against a seven-day suspension meted out by the Plumpton stewards. The Irish jockey, who was found to have thrown his whip at Semi Precious after the pair had fallen last Monday, seeks to rule out a penalty which threatens his participation at the lucrative Yuletide meetings of Kempton and Leopardstown.

* There is no racing in Britain or Ireland until Boxing Day.