The King George question: Second-season chaser or experienced pro?
The 2015 King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day is gearing up to be one of the most stellar fields ever assembled in a race that dates back to 1937.
The entry list is littered with star names, many of which will arrive with big-race victories under their belts.
Here is a small breakdown of the leading protagonists in this potentially vintage era of chasing. They have been broken down into two camps, for reasons which will be revealed later:
Vautour – Won the JLT at the last Cheltenham Festival by 15 lengths and expected to improve again for stepping up to 3m. Said to only be half-fit too when winning on seasonal debut.
Coneygree – Became the first novice since 1974 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and was equally dominant in the novice equivalent of the King George at Kempton last Christmas, taking that by 40 lengths. Currently not entered for the King George though, so will need supplementing.
Saphir Du Rheu – Trainer Paul Nicholls stated at the start of the season that he could be the yard’s next Cheltenham Gold Cup horse, following the likes of Kauto Star, Denman and Silviniaco Conti. Won a Grade 1 novice chase at Aintree to close last year at the Grand National meeting.
Ptit Zig – Got to within two lengths of Vautour on seasonal return at Ascot, despite conceding 5lb in weight. This has seen his price more than half for the King George. Three Grade 2 victories remain his best result over fences though.
Don Cossack – Currently the highest-rated chaser across Britain and Ireland. He has won four on the bounce since flopping in third spot in the Ryanair Chase at the last Cheltenham Festival, three of which were at Grade 1 level. That remains his only defeat in last nine starts.
Cue Card – Looks back to his best this season after victories in the Charlie Hall Chase and Betfair Chase and a triumph in the King George would take him to win one success of a £1m jackpot for connections. Has run in the Kempton showpiece in the last three years, finishing second once and fifth on the other two occasions.
Silviniaco Conti – Won the King George in each of the last two years, but will need to step up markedly on Betfair Chase effort when well beaten. Trainer Nicholls hinted that he may have needed the run that day and he is at his best on a flat track like Kempton.
Road To Riches – Third in both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cups last season and certainly didn’t appear to have dipped over the summer when winning well on his seasonal reappearance over an inadequate trip.
The reason for the division is because second-season chasers don’t have an especially good record in the King George. In fact, Kicking King in 2004 and Long Run in 2010 are the only winners from this camp since this century.
And numerous other highly-fancied types have fallen short in this time. These include Exotic Dancer (second in 2006), My Way De Solzen (pulled up in 2007), Imperial Commander (sixth in 2008), Grands Crus (third in 2012), Dynaste (fifth in 2013) and Champagne Fever (fourth in 2014).
In contrast, second-season chasers tend to perform much better in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (10 of the 12 different winners this century were first or second-season chasers). An extra three months progression in terms of jumping and race fitness seems to bridge any gaps against the chasing pros.
This statistic is something to bear in mind ahead of placing bets on the King George.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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