Another day, another race. Silviniaco Conti, only third behind Cue Card when the pair met in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month, took glorious revenge yesterday in the second of the domestic season’s four top-level staying chases, the King George VI Chase at Kempton. And the seven-year-old’s three-and-a-half-length defeat of his rival has sent him to the head of the market for the third, and most important, the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself.
Silviniaco Conti’s victory – an eighth in the Boxing Day showpiece for his trainer, Paul Nicholls, a first for rider Noel Fehily – was not in itself a surprise; he started a well-fancied 7-2 third favourite of the nine runners. But it would have been to anyone who had watched Cue Card sail assuredly over the second-last with a three-length lead and then turned away to beat the rush to collect their winnings.
Between the last two obstacles, the complexion of the denouement underwent a remarkable change, with a glance behind from Joe Tizzard, in Cue Card’s saddle, the first hint. In strides his mount’s petrol gauge flickered on empty, just as Silviniaco Conti’s turbo-boost kicked in. “I thought maybe Joe had got away three out,” said Fehily, “but mine is as tough as nails as well as being very good.”
With stamina at a premium in the three-mile test on soft ground, the reversal of form between the two horses came courtesy of several factors, with a well-worked plan near the top of the list. Yesterday Cue Card, as at Haydock, jumped superbly as he blazed a relentless trail that had all his rivals bar one on the rack before the turn for home. But this time his lead was not always comfortable. “He was in a lovely rhythm,” Tizzard said of the 100-30 joint-favourite, “but every time I thought I might have a chance to fill him up, Noel was there on my girth, pushing me on. And he just emptied after two out.”
A fine leap out of his stride at the last sealed the spoils for Silviniaco Conti, who stripped much leaner and fitter than he had for last month’s seasonal debut and harried the leader in second spot from the off. “I knew if he’d been at his absolute peak at Haydock he wouldn’t have won today,” said Nicholls. “He came on enormously from that run and I told Noel to make plenty of use of him today. All he does is stay, and you’ve got to be a true stayer to win this race.”
Nicholls had previously won two King Georges with See More Business, and five with Kauto Star, who thrilled yesterday’s faithful with an exuberant canter in front of the grandstands before the race he made his own. “It’s nice to win it with something different,” added Nicholls.
Silviniaco Conti, owned by businessmen Jared Sullivan and Chris Giles, and Cue Card pulled 11 lengths clear of the winner’s stablemate Al Ferof, with Irish raider Mount Benbulben fourth and the other joint-favourite Dynaste, who had split the first two at Haydock, a disappointing fifth and last of the finishers. Dual winner Long Run had faded out of contention when he unseated his rider at the last.
In the latest Gold Cup, Silviniaco Conti had been travelling easily when he came down three from home and now shares favouritism for his second crack at the crown in March with the reigning king, Bobs Worth.
Equally, there is a tie at the top of the Champion Hurdle betting between My Tent Or Yours and The New One, separated by half a length in yesterday’s Christmas Hurdle, with the runner-up arguably unlucky after losing momentum with a last-flight blunder.
Ireland’s contenders – notably chaser Sir Des Champs and hurdlers Hurricane Fly and Jezki – will have their say at Leopardstown tomorrow and Sunday. But the divisions seem intriguingly evenly matched and Cheltenham will bring other days, other races.
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