Racing: Nicholls poised to deliver King George Thriller

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The Independent Online
IF CHRISTMAS is for children, then Boxing Day is for the grown- ups, although the state of some of the punters when they clear out the bars after racing at Kempton this evening might imply otherwise. This year, what's more, they will have turned up with the remnants of two whole days of indulgence still seeping through their veins, which is a dangerous way to be when the racing is as compelling, and obstacle-strewn, as the King George card this afternoon. There will be some who stagger into the chill Middlesex air this evening drunk, broke and a long way from home, which is enough to ruin anyone's Christmas.

To ensure that it's not you, there are two obvious remedies: don't go racing, and don't bet. Neither, clearly, is all that attractive, and the latter, especially, hardly bears thinking about. So instead, be careful. There are several apparent good things on the Kempton card, but experience tells us that some, indeed possibly all, will fail to oblige.

One point which must certainly be borne in mind is that the declarations for today's races were made last Thursday morning, when the going was officially good. By the time the action starts this afternoon it will be much softer, which could have a significant, and probably negative, impact on the chances of several runners in the big race. As Noel Chance, who trains Looks Like Trouble, the likely favourite for the King George, said last week, "They tell me that in all probability the ground will ride good to soft on Monday, and my concern is just how good to soft it is. He's won on that ground but if it comes up soft that will be unknown territory for him."

You do not want many "unknowns" in the equation when a horse is trading at around 2-1, which is very short about a runner who finished behind See More Business, his market rival, on his seasonal debut. He trotted up in a meaningless three-runner race at Sandown a few weeks later, but the fact remains that Looks Like Trouble does not have the form in the book to make him favourite for what is the most strongly contested race of his life.

In fact, this is one of the best renewals of this race for years, with See More Business and Go Ballistic - first and second in last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup - lining up against Double Thriller, a chaser of huge potential, and an assortment of talented and durable animals like Dorans Pride and Dr Leunt, a course specialist.

See More Business, who won two years ago, could easily do so again, this being a race which produces multiple winners. He too does not want it too soft and this is a better race than when he won (Challenger Du Luc, an outsider today, was the runner-up) in 1997.

Again, his price is very short for a classy but exposed chaser who, even in the blinkers which bring out the best in him, still tends to make the odd mistake. Go Ballistic, who was so close to him in the Gold Cup, is an obvious alternative, especially given the start which Alan King has made to his training career after inheriting David Nicholson's licence.

He has been well supported, though, and what value there was has gone, what with his preference for decent ground and a stiffer track. In fact, there is only one horse in the list whose price still looks tempting, because his Paul Nicholls-trained stable-mate, See More Business, has attracted most of the money and attention.

DOUBLE THRILLER (nap 2.20) is a nine-year-old, but he has raced only seven times under Rules, including the hunter chase last year in which he beat Teeton Mill by 12 lengths. Today's track, trip and ground should be ideal, and he goes well fresh, so any offers of around 7-1 are worth taking.

Kempton's supporting card is even better than usual, with Hitman, a top-class stayer on the Flat, making his hurdling debut in the opener. He has not seen a track since the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York last year and Bassey (12.40) could exploit any lack of sharpness.

Despite setting too strong a pace at Sandown last time, Gloria Victis (1.10) kept on well for third behind the smart Decoupage and should be better suited by the three-mile trip of today's Feltham Novices' Chase. Bhutan (next best 1.45) is difficult to oppose in the handicap hurdle, but it is harder to find a bet in the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase. Tiutchev was a fine hurdler and could go all the way over fences, but was unconvincing on his chasing debut.

The Castleford Chase at Wetherby also features in Channel 4's schedule, when Nordance Prince (1.30), another lightly raced chaser, should have the beating of Majadou. The main race in Ireland is the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown, where Palette (2.40) could be the pick of the 21 runners.

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