The Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame will be out to defend his King George VI Chase crown in the iconic annual Boxing Day event at Kempton Park (Picture: worldofwomenssport.com)
Kempton spectacular full of quality, but with plenty up for debate.
At The Races
Paul Nicholls believes there are “plenty of ifs, buts and question marks” about the field for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The champion trainer targets the Christmas highlight like no one else and will be seeking his 14th success in the race as he saddles last year’s winner Bravemansgame in the Grade One contest.
See More Business was his first winner in 1997 and he regained the title two years later. Kauto Star then dominated, eclipsing Desert Orchid’s four victories by winning five between 2006 and 2011, before Nicholls sent out two more dual winners in Silviniaco Conti and Clan Des Obeaux.
The Ditcheat handler also runs 2020 big-race hero Frodon, but it is Bravemansgame who has Nicholls dreaming of more glory, despite two defeats already this term, in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
While that puts a slight mark against the defending champion, Nicholls feels the case for favourite Allaho is not totally clear, while Shishkin is on a retrieval mission after refusing to start on his seasonal bow at Ascot.
“We got outstayed at Haydock by Royale Pagaille, but he has run well there (Kempton) before and it suits him well,” said Nicholls.
“Allaho came back and won the other day from his time off, but is he as good as he was? There are plenty of ifs, buts and question marks, but we are very happy with Bravemansgame.
“I think he has got a great chance there is no doubt about it. The previous year’s winner of the race is always the one to beat and he has definitely taken a step forward since Haydock.”
Harry Cobden will be on board again and he told Planet Sport: “The track just really suits him and seems to bring out the best in him. He’s a very strong traveller and his jumping really keeps him in the race. If he can reproduce what he did last year, he’ll definitely take a bit of beating.
“Allaho looks the main danger to me. He’s a very smart horse and Willie (Mullins) doesn’t send them over for nothing. He jumps a little bit left which wouldn’t be ideal around Kempton and with Frodon in the race, he won’t have an easy time of it. Hopefully that will play into our hands.”
Ireland’s champion jockey Paul Townend has his first ever ride in the race on Allaho
“I can’t wait to ride in a Ladbrokes King George VI Chase. It is a very prestigious race which I haven’t been to before so it is all new and I am looking forward to it,” he told Ladbrokes.
“Allaho is as good a chance I will get of winning a King George. It’s a class race without it being a massive field. You can make a case for everything in it.
“My horse is a dual Ryanair winner, along with a Punchestown Gold Cup winner, so we are hoping he stays and that the track suits him. Obviously, I am disappointed to be missing some very big rides at Leopardstown, but having a crack on Allaho in this race makes up for it.”
Nicky Henderson retains full faith in Shishkin’s ability as he tackles a staying trip for just the second time under rules.
Winner of the 2021 Arkle, Shishkin won the Aintree Bowl over three miles and a furlong at the end of last season, but his refusal to race at Ascot means he comes into the King George without a prep run – and slightly under the radar, in his trainer’s opinion.
“When he won the Supreme he was a very good horse, and he is still a very good horse,” said Henderson.
“It has taken us a bit longer than it should have done to make us realise he is a three-miler not a two-miler, but if you win the Supreme, not surprisingly, you are thinking along the two-mile route, not three.
“He has proven what he can do over three miles, so let’s stick to it. He is the sort of forgotten person in the race and no one has mentioned him.
“The only thing I would say is don’t judge him on this, because I think it is very unfair coming into a race like this without a run. It doesn’t mean there aren’t bigger and better things to come. He might run very well and not quite get home.
“Kempton is not a stamina track, except in the King George you have got to stay and be fit because this is the one race where there is no hiding place.”
Patrick Neville’s The Real Whacker is the only horse who has managed to beat Gerri Colombe to date, but he was pulled up on his return to action in the Paddy Power Gold Cup when he went lame.
He will be ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies again and he told William Hill: “Among many, his biggest asset is his jumping and at Kempton the jumps come quick and thick.
“Paddy Neville is really happy with him and says he’s in good form at home despite bits and pieces going against him at Cheltenham last time.
“You can put a line through that as it didn’t really happen for him that day, but he seems to have turned a real corner since then so we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do, especially now he’s got a run under his belt.”