Racing: Kempton a natural home for Humour: The Uplands runner can take advantage of a level playing field in the King George VI Chase

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The Independent Online
THE King George VI Chase at Kempton is billed as the mid- season championship, the race that develops the accession of the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. Well, it isn't.

While trials for athletic peaks may have some meaning as competitors are doing battle on a level playing field, nothing could be further from the truth in racing's progression. In extreme terms, the King George's flatlands are savannahs to the Gold Cup's Himalayas.

This may explain the recent record of the respective events. While the Gold Cup has featured wild and wonderful results in the shape of Norton's Coin and Cool Ground, the King George has been sadly predictable. Since 1978, and if the Dickinson family can be taken as a single entity, there have been just four different winning trainers.

Charlie Brooks, who saddles one of Monday's runners, Black Humour, from his Uplands stables in Lambourn, can see little connection between the two Grade One competitions.

'The King George is a totally different race from the Gold Cup,' he said yesterday. 'It's two furlongs shorter, a faster, sharper track and it's generally run on quicker ground.

'Cheltenham is a bigger test of stamina and can be run on extremes of ground, whereas Kempton is a flat, straightforward track and you don't get the undulations.

'Jumping mistakes probably cost more horses Gold Cups than King Georges, and when I say that, horses like Celtic Shot and Ten Plus spring to mind, but in the King George you might struggle to find one horse whose jumping errors have cost him the race.

'There are certainly horses who get three miles round Kempton who, no way, do they get the extra two furlongs round Cheltenham.'

Brooks reckons that if Black Humour is to win a ranking race, then this is probably the one, as the results book shows his premium efforts have been delivered at Sunbury. 'He's run probably the two best races of his life round Kempton, once in a hurdle race when Peter Scudamore won on him and in the Charisma Chase this year,' the trainer said.

But if Brooks fears another entry it is The Fellow, who now goes for a hat-trick in the race, a feat last achieved by jumps racing's most recent icon, Desert Orchid. Francois Doumen, his trainer, has monopolised the winner's enclosure with David Elsworth after the premier event of Boxing Day for the last seven years and aims to add a few more ecus to his horse's coffers.

The Fellow's win and place collection now totals over pounds 660,000, which is almost exactly pounds 600,000 ahead of his early rival in the ante-post market, Barton Bank (Docklands Express with pounds 278,000 has the next most bulging wallet among Monday's field). This chasm between the two says little about their relative merits and more about the better prize-money in France, even though jumps racing there is about as popular as beans on toast.

'The Fellow seems to be able to deliver his challenge better at Kempton than Cheltenham,' Brooks said. 'You can get away with coming wide at Kempton but he doesn't seem to be able to do the same thing when he comes down the hill and round the bend at Cheltenham.'

Brooks knows the King George is never a widely contested race and even though a maximum of only 11 runners will go to post on Monday, that would still equal the second largest field.

Cool Ground was the only horse withdrawn at yesterday's declaration stage and that thorough stayer now has a more suitable target in Tuesday's Welsh National - a race he won in 1990 - in his sights. Another Coral is also likely to defect, though, and will switch to Kempton only if Wetherby, where he would meet Cogent and Mr Boston, is abandoned. His stable-mate, Barton Bank, and Nevada Gold, also hold engagements at Wincanton, in the Mid Season Chase, but would run there only if the day's main fixture succumbs to the elements.

Brooks hopes the small number of runners will work in his favour, and he has put further theories to the test this week by employing Andrew Hoy, a member of Australia's Gold-medal three-day-event winning team, to brush up his gelding's jumping.

'You need a different sort of horse at Kempton and it will suit him better than Cheltenham,' he said. 'It's a flat track, the ground will suit him and he's a specialist. You need that.'

(Photograph omitted)

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