Cheltenham Festival seemed to be all about the novices, with the (relative) youngsters covering themselves in glory at Prestbury Park, and it certainly sets us up for a mouth-watering 2015/16 campaign.
And when the remnants of Christmas dinner are polished off, Kempton could serve up an absolute treat on Boxing Day.
After destroying his opponents in the JLT Novices’ Chase in sublime fashion, Vautour was awarded a rating of 171, one that would put him as the best novice this century.
That is, were it not for Coneygree.
Mark Bradstock’s gelding’s front-running performance in taking the Gold Cup was one for the smaller yards in a week dominated by Willie Mullins, the eight-year-old earning a rating of 172 in the process.
His wife Sara has all-but confirmed the King George will be one of his targets next season, and the record of Gold Cup winners going for the race in the same year bodes well.
Five have attempted the double in the same year since the turn of the century, with four succeeding, only Long Run being denied by the great Kauto Star in 2011 preventing the clean sweep.
Furthermore, all have gone off at 11/8 favourite or shorter.
How then, even allowing for the time before the race, is the Gold Cup winner twice the price of Vautour at 5/1?
The pair look to be on course for a face-off in Sunbury-on-Thames over the Christmas period with the Irish challenger reportedly being aimed down the Gold Cup route in time.
The fact of the matter is that Mullins’ horse has yet to race further than the 2m4f trip he faced at Cheltenham, and although he didn’t look like stopping, 3m at Kempton on winter ground will take some getting.
His ability to stay the distance will be tested to the max if front-runner Coneygree gets his way at the head of affairs, a tussle that could decide the race.
In his victory over the King George track and trip last year, he forced the field into jumping mistakes and had plenty in trouble a long way out, a predicament he replicated at Cheltenham.
Make sure the antepost favourite isn’t allowed to dominate, like he has in most of his races, and both his stamina reserves and intelligence when it comes to his jumping will be really tested.
Like Vautour, Coneygree is adept at putting in the odd spectacular jump, but what is perhaps more likeable is the fact that Bradstock’s horse can be clever when he gets in tight, and is able to put himself right without losing much momentum.
Another horse that will ensure the jolly is made to work for his place as market leader is Don Poli.
The RSA Chase winner has been described as ‘slow’ in some parts this season, but that only adds to the taking fashion in which the Gigginstown Stud-owned gelding grinds away and stays all day.
He may not quite have the class of Coneygree, but over 3m he should be a lot closer to Vautour in the betting than he is.
All told the favourite looks a remarkably short price at this stage, and all antepost bets should look firmly in the direction of the current king of the staying chasers.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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