A second King George VI Chase triumph may not yet rival Kauto Star and Desert Orchid, whose statues, commemorating five and four wins respectively, lord it over Kempton, but Silviniaco Conti earned respect with a commanding performance.
A ninth success in the race for trainer Paul Nicholls had an almost inevitable feel about it as soon as Noel Fehily, certain of his partner’s stamina, took the favourite straight into the lead and, helped by an immaculate round of jumping, controlled the race throughout.
Turning for home, five of Silviniaco Conti’s nine rivals were still in within a shout, but they were hanging on rather than snapping at his heels and three more superb leaps took him clear of the three greys, Dynaste, Al Ferof and Champagne Fever.
Silviniaco Conti has had his critics, but it was hard to find fault here and Nicholls thinks he is a better horse this season. “He’s in a better place now and much improved,” said the Ditcheat trainer, who will now try to make it third time lucky with the eight-year-old in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – he faded into fourth up the hill last season and fell when in contention at the previous Festival.
Fehily concurred: “He’s proved today that he’s a hell of a good horse. The more you ask him, the more he gives.”
Silviniaco Conti was predictably slashed to 4-1 favourite for the Gold Cup, but it would be wise not to get carried away with this performance, however striking visually. The horses he beat yesterday are all better over shorter distances – Dynaste will seek a second Ryanair Chase victory over two miles and five furlongs at Cheltenham, while Nicholls is toying with the idea of bringing Al Ferof back to two miles for the Champion Chase.
Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth, the last two Gold Cup winners, are likely to be more formidable foes – they meet in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown tomorrow.
Faugheen was even more dominant while extending his unbeaten record to nine in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, extolling the virtues of Britain’s only credible Champion Hurdle challenger, The New One, threw down the gauntlet after a smooth win at Cheltenham earlier this month, but Faugheen picked it up and slapped his rival across the face with another brilliant display.
Faugheen’s only sloppy jump was at the last, but the race had already been put to bed by then, with Irving and Sign Of A Victory crying enough early in the home straight.
The winning rider, Ruby Walsh, made all the right polite noises about The New One, Hurricane Fly and Jezki, but could not stop beaming as he reflected on another high-class performance by Willie Mullins’ six-year-old. “Gosh, this horse is something else, we’re so lucky to have him,” said his owner, Rich Ricci.
The New One versus Faugheen, the best hurdler in Britain against the best in Ireland, promises to be the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival. There is not much between them on form, but what particularly excites is the probability that one will almost certainly need to raise his game come March to beat the other.
Nico de Boinville celebrated winning the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase aboard Coneygree like he had won the King George itself and it was easy to see why the rider was so thrilled to land what has often been a stepping stone to the very top.
Coneygree had it a lot easier than he should have done as one after another of his rivals – including the highly regarded Saphir Du Rheu – fell by the wayside, but jumping is the name of the game and this exciting half-brother to the 2011 Hennessy Gold Cup winner Carruthers never put a foot wrong and could scarcely have done more than beat the other finishers by 40 lengths.
De Boinville, “completely oblivious” to the carnage going on behind, now looks forward to punching the air in triumph again after the RSA Chase, saying: “Cheltenham will be right up his street.”Reuse content