Both the main protagonists for the 56th King George VI Chase a week today, Kauto Star and Monet's Garden, were reported yesterday in rude health. But Nicky Richards, trainer of the second favourite, admitted that his charge may be set to play only a minor role. "It would be nice to win," he said, "but I'm not going to put extra pressure on by thinking we will. From all accounts Kauto Star is a world-beater and the rest of us may be running for second place."
Seven days, though, is a long time in the life of a racehorse. "The real battle is getting there in one piece," added Richards, again not tempting fate, "but all being well we will be lining up with a big chance and Monet's is ready to do his best."
The eight-year-old has some serious hoofprints to follow, for one grey has already travelled from the Greystoke yard in Cumbria where he lives to take the Boxing Day showpiece. And in his current stable star, Richards can see echoes of One Man, who won his second 'King George' 10 years ago under the care of his late father, Gordon.
"Their style of racing is much the same," he said. "Like One Man, Monet's Garden jumps very well, something that I very much hope will continue. And they are more than similar to look at, though that is probably not surprising as One Man was by Remainder Man and Monet's Garden is out of a Remainder Man mare."
When One Man won at Kempton in 1996, he broke the three-mile track record. "I wouldn't mind if the similarities stretched that far," added Richards. "Monet's Garden has yet to tackle the distance over fences, though he has won over farther in his hurdling days. Three miles is his trip all right. He gets stamina as well as his colour from Roselier and a flat track like Kempton will suit him."
Richards has taken a softly-softly approach; David Yates's gelding has raced only once this term, when he disposed of Mid Dancer, since an easy winner in his native France, at Carlisle in late October. By contrast Kauto Star, odds-on for the mid-season championship, has been out three times for as many wins, two at Grade One level. On his latest run, he trounced Voy Por Ustedes, who had beaten Monet's Garden at Cheltenham in March. "He'll have his normal programme this week," said trainer Paul Nicholls yesterday, "with a couple of canters and possibly a school at the end of the week. All the work has been done. And it looks like being a small, select field, which will be ideal for him."
Kauto Star's stablemate Thisthatandtother is highly likely to join the list of defectors from the race, though a final decision will be made at today's penultimate declaration stage. Apart from the first two in the market, the only other in single betting figures (around 6-1) is the Henrietta Knight-trained Racing Demon, who defeated Thisthatandtother at Huntingdon last month. The best-backed horse yesterday was reportedly Monkerhostin, now as low as 12-1.
* Bangor inspect at 2.00pm tomorrow for Saturday's meeting as the course is waterlogged in a few places.
Nap: Tell Henry (Ayr 12.20)
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