Conventional racing wisdom has it that speed, rather than an abundance of stamina, is the most important attribute in a potential King George VI Chase winner, hence the proliferation of specialists over shorter distances than three miles lining up at Kempton on Boxing Day.
This is not a theory backed up by fact. You have to go back 10 years to find a winner who did not go on to prove himself a stayer, Edredon Bleu – and that was a distinctly non-vintage renewal, run on good ground.
Since then this Boxing Day bird has been carved up between Kicking King, Long Run (twice each) and the remarkable Kauto Star (a record five victories), who all possessed the stamina to win Cheltenham Gold Cups.
Kempton is, to be sure, a less demanding circuit than Cheltenham, but can still provide a war of attrition, especially when saturated by rain, as it was last year and will be again today if the weather forecasters have it right.
On the face of it, Cue Card, who beat Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month, ran the perfect trial, but more still will be demanded of his stamina if the rain really sets in. Times are less relevant in a chase than they are on the Flat, but it is still worth noting that last year’s King George was run in about a second and a half slower per furlong than was the Betfair Chase.
Cue Card had an edge in match fitness at Haydock and his stable is not in the same red-hot form now, two more reasons for connections of both Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti to fancy their chances of turning the tables.
Al Ferof, top-class over shorter distances, but never tried over three miles under Rules, has the biggest question mark over his stamina among the leading contenders, but the Irish raider Mount Benbulben should not be dismissed lightly. His jumping can be hit and miss, but he has the potential to win at this level when everything clicks.
A rethink will be required if the rain miraculously misses Sunbury-on-Thames, but, anticipating a drenching, I would suggest sticking with Long Run (3.10 Kempton), the winner in 2010 and last year, and generally available at 10-1.
Many feel Long Run’s very best days are behind him and they may be right; certainly, he has been devoid of his old sparkle so far this season. One would hope that Nicky Henderson’s upbeat bulletin this week was more than just wishful thinking and also that a visor applied for the first time has a positive effect. But this race clearly brings out the best in him and I would not want to be on anything else if it comes down to a slog.
The Feltham Novices’ Chase (now renamed after Kauto Star) has been won by Long Run and Dynaste in recent years and Paul Nicholls has good reason to believe that the mud-lover Just A Par (2.00 Kempton) also has the class to win today’s renewal before going on to better things following his impressive win at Newbury last month.
Very soft ground may also have a significant bearing on the outcome of the Christmas Hurdle, in which The New One and My Tent Or Yours, first and second favourites for the Champion Hurdle, meet for the first time. In theory, Kempton’s two miles should favour the speedier My Tent Or Yours, but a testing surface hands the advantage to The New One (2.35 Kempton).
Cape Tribulation’s prospects of winning the Rowland Meyrick Chase for the second year running have taken a hit with Donald McCain’s decision to run wide-margin Haydock winner Sydney Paget (1.45 Wetherby) here rather than in Chepstow’s Welsh Grand National on Saturday.
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