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)
Assessing The Top Contenders For The King George VI Chase
Joe Eccles (Racing Post)
The Ladbrokes King George VI Chase (2.30 Kempton, Tuesday) takes place on Boxing Day and a high-class field looks set to line up in the prestigious Grade 1. Here we go through the form of the leading contenders and produce an early verdict on who will come out on top.
Strengths He is a four-time Grade 1-winning chaser who gained two of those top-level victories in successive runnings of the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
He achieved a Racing Post Rating of 179 in both of his Ryanair victories and that figure would have been enough for victory in nine of the last ten runnings of the King George.
He successfully handled the step back up to three miles with a 14-length win in the 2022 Punchestown Gold Cup, producing a career-best RPR of 180 – the same figure that Cue Card achieved in this race in 2015.
Weaknesses He missed last season and, although victorious in the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase on last month’s reappearance, this will provide a far greater indication of how much ability remains after his 18-month layoff.
What they say
Willie Mullins, trainer: “We’ve made plans for Allaho to go to Kempton. I was very happy with the work he did at the Curragh this morning [Tuesday] so it’s all systems go. The King George is a race I’ve wanted to run him in for quite a while, but for one reason or another he hasn’t made it over there, but things are coming together nicely for him this time.”
Strengths He impressed when landing the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on this card in 2021 and stepped up to take this race 12 months ago, pulling clear under a confident Harry Cobden ride to score by 14 lengths.
He subsequently put up good showings in defeat in both the Cheltenham Gold Cup, when beating all bar the impressive Galopin Des Champs, and the Punchestown Gold Cup, where he was a two-and-a-quarter-length third behind Fastorslow.
He will have been campaigned with this race in mind and the course and distance clearly suit him very well.
Weaknesses He has been beaten at odds-on in both the Charlie Hall and Betfair Chase this season and this looks a significantly tougher assignment.
What they say
Bryan Drew, owner: “That [Kempton] will be his big day. It’s hard to be confident after two disappointing runs but he’s A1 and did his best bit of work this morning. We had a winner at Doncaster on Friday and another [at Cheltenham on Saturday], so hopefully our good run continues. Harry Cobden is in really good form as well.”
Strengths His only defeat in ten career starts came when going down by a short head to The Real Whacker in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase. He gained Grade 1 wins at Sandown and Aintree on either side of that Cheltenham Festival defeat.
He was sent off the 4-7 favourite for Down Royal’s Champion Chase on his reappearance last month and battled to a neck success, which was a performance worth upgrading as he was forced to switch when making his challenge.
His Down Royal win produced a career-best RPR of 168, and his RPR has now improved run-to-run on each of his last nine starts.
Weaknesses His participation is yet to be confirmed with connections hopeful conditions will turn testing and there’s a suspicion that three miles around Kempton will prove an insufficient test of stamina.
What they say
Brian Acheson, owner: “It’s going to be down to the weather whether Gerri Colombe goes to the King George. They’re due a bit of rain early this week but there’s not much after that and, if we travel over, we have to go on Saturday, so we haven’t decided whether he’ll go yet.”
Strengths He is a high-class chaser who has gained nine wins from 13 starts over fences, five of those victories coming at Grade 1 level.
He has mainly been campaigned over shorter distances, but his strong-finishing style often suggested that a step up in trip would suit and he confirmed that view when running down Ahoy Senor in the 3m1f Aintree Bowl in April.
He remains open to improvement over staying trips and holds a 4-4 record at Kempton.
Weaknesses He refused to race when the 8-13 favourite for the 1965 Chase at Ascot last month. The weather prevented him from taking up subsequent engagements in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle and Fighting Fifth at Sandown, so he comes into this race both without a run since April and with serious temperament questions to answer.
What they say
Nicky Henderson, trainer, speaking on December 9: “The King George is still the plan for Shishkin and he’ll go straight there. It’s too close to the race now to be thinking of anything else. He’ll have plenty of work between now and then.”
How about the remainder?
Venetia Williams’ Royale Pagaille gained a breakthrough Grade 1 win in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month when holding off Bravemansgame by six and a half lengths. That is his favourite track, however, with his top three RPRs all coming there. He may find this too sharp a test, as he did when a 14-length second to Bravemansgame last year.
The Real Whacker was 3-3 over fences before failing to finish in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last time out. He had possible excuses for that showing, having been found to have been struck into on his right fore. If he is back to the pick of last season’s form he would warrant serious respect at a track that will suit his positive style of racing.
Shark Hanlon’s Hewick should get his ground and could be well suited to the demands of this track, but this is a big ask on his first start since finishing down the field in the Galway Plate in August.
The 2020 winner Frodon is approaching 12 years old and was well held in the Badger Beer Handicap Chase at Wincanton last month.
If Allaho is at his very best this looks his race for the taking, but there has to be a question mark over how much his 18-month absence took out of him, while Shishkin has even bigger questions to answer after refusing to race in the 1965 Chase at Ascot. The safest play appears to be Bravemansgame, who thrives at this track and represents a stable that has won the King George a remarkable 13 times.