If it is true that jockeys are as bad at tipping as urban myth says they are, then perhaps that does not bode well for Kauto Star's chances of winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive King George VI Chase. It was no great surprise to hear yesterday that his own rider, Ruby Walsh, is not contemplating defeat for the great nine-year-old on Boxing Day. And maybe none, either, that his views are echoed by his good friend and colleague Tony McCoy, who will be on last year's eight-length runner-up Albertas Run and who is nothing if not pragmatic about what is written in the formbook.
"Only the weather can upset him," McCoy said yesterday. "He's an outstanding racehorse and looks impossible to beat. But Albertas Run was a good second to him a year ago and that should give him a good chance of being in the money again."
Walsh feels that the gelding, who inched home from Imperial Commander at Haydock last month, is possibly even better this time round. "I felt he would definitely improve a lot for that first run," he said, "and Paul [Nicholls, Kauto Star's trainer], who sees him every morning, says he has, so I'll take his word for it. Clifford Baker, who rides him in his work, is happy and if he is, I am too. I can't wait for the race to come around."
Kauto Star has won the last three editions of the Grade One midwinter championship by an aggregate 27 lengths, but there is no shortage of rivals to take him on. He may face his largest collection of opponents yet round Kempton's three miles; previously he has prevailed in fields of 10, seven and nine, but 14 were declared at the penultimate stage yesterday.
David Pipe intends to send two to the fray, Madison Du Berlais and the veteran Our Vic, runner-up two years ago. Madison Du Berlais' rapid strides through the ranks last season included a defeat of Kauto Star's stablemate Denman over Saturday's course and distance and he opened this term's campaign with a ring-rusty, distant third behind the champion at Haydock. "He never performs to his best first time out," Pipe said. "And yes, he's got to improve a lot for that run as he was beaten a long way. But he's proved he's up to these top-class races and he's run well round Kempton before."
Ireland's equivalent contest, the Lexus Chase on Monday, attracted a field of 13 yesterday, though the five from Britain will be only four if the King George goes ahead as Imperial Commander remained on the Leopardstown list only as a precaution. The raiding party comprises What A Friend, Money Trix, Voy Por Ustedes and Cloudy Lane. Joncol heads the home defence.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Stravita (2.25 Southwell)
Won this last year off the same mark, looks to have been targeted for a repeat by her shrewd yard and should now be straight enough with three runs under her girth.
Secretive (12.25 Southwell)
Well-related son of Selkirk making a belated debut. Can add to his stable's good record in this type of race.
One to watch
Quartano (W J Greatrex) has got his career back on track since being stepped up in trip and is on a most tempting mark should he be aimed down the handicap route.
Where the money's going
Deep Purple is 11-2 from 7-1 with Paddy Power in the "without Kauto Star" market for the King George.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Nightjar (12.55 Southwell).