Everybody has a favourite thing about Christmas. The roast turkey, the presents or the movies in front of the TV. Our favourite thing here, however, is the racing, where we get a feast of action over the holidays that actually has already started by the time you read this (Ascot’s Winter Festival meeting has three Graded races), but for many the seasonal highlight is the 32Red King George VI Steeple Chase, part of the 32Red Winter Festival – buy tickets now for a 10% discount.
This year’s renewal looks to be a top-quality contest that should provide not only entertainment but also crucial Cheltenham Gold Cup clues, and the favourite is an ante-post tip for readers of my Will’s Wisdom column in the shape of the enigmatic Might Bite. Recommended for the Gold Cup after his stunning novice campaign at the beginning of the year, he has had only one run, but his reappearance at Sandown was a satisfactory one and in cantering around to beat the useful Frodon, he avoided the harder races many in this field would have put themselves through. It is not like we need to learn about his ability; His sensational RSA Chase win, when he burned off the rest of the field to lead around the home turn by 10 lengths before still holding off the late charge of Whisper. He would have won the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase by nearly 20 lengths had he stood up at the last – or been given more of a chance by Daryl Jacob – and the form of his RSA and Aintree successes was backed up tenfold when Whisper was beaten a head in the Ladbrokes Trophy.
Dai Walters’ charge Whisper just failed to give a stone to Total Recall, the eight length Munster National winner, earning himself a rating of 161 in the process and marking himself down as a very high-class horse indeed and a likely Gold Cup contender. He stayed extremely well that day and has been well suited by galloping tracks, but he had enough toe to get the better of Clan Des Obeaux on his seasonal reappearance, form that was boosted when he just failed to give a stone to Guitar Pete in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. His price has contracted since he was confirmed for this race, but if he’s no less than two lengths worse than Might Bite then he looks big at 10/1.
Bristol De Mai’s domination of the Betfair Chase was one of the most remarkable performances of the year, not just the season, and probably a significant career best on his part. Since he crossed the line by 57 lengths, the debate has been about whether he put his rivals in the hurt locker to such an extent, or whether his rivals simply could not cope with the incredibly deep conditions that day. The time posted would suggest that it was a mixture of both, but it is worth noting that he was a convincing winner of the Charlie Hall Chase before when giving 6lbs to previous RSA Chase winner and subsequent Becher Chase winner Blaklion, and he did so smoothly on good ground having always travelled best. That performance puts to bed the idea he can only operate around Haydock, and he deserves to be second favourite although he is probably the right price about now.
The roof has been taken off his place quite a few times in recent seasons but Thistlecrack will be shaking the standards again if he is back to his best with victory here. There is one question surrounding last year’s empathetic Champion, namely how much of his ability he retains following his injury that he incurred back last winter. Three quarters of his reappearance in the Long Distance Hurdle was good, as he raced with a lot of zest – much like the old Thistlecrack, some would say – but he did come to a halt rather quickly once push came to shiv e and the lack of a f finishing effort led many to believe he wasn’t the same horse. Now he is entitled to improve greatly from that effort, and all the vibes from the Tizzard yard are that he has improved for the run since as one would expect. However, how far has he come in that short space of time? How fit was he at Newbury? How much stronger is this year’s renewal than last year’s? The last two questions appear particularly pertinent, and one can expect him to get into the sort of battle that Many Clouds got into with him at Cheltenham too.
Fox Norton is also likely to run, given that Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John won’t, and he is a fascinating contender to follow in the footsteps of Sizing John by stepping up in trip and producing a career best. He ran out of time in the Champion Chase, but his Melling Chase win at Aintree was one of the most impressive performance of last spring when he beat the Ryanair second Sub Lieutenant by an easy six lengths, before then going onto beat Un De Sceaux in the Punchestown Champion Chase. After an impressive comeback in the Sholer Chase, he was a hot favourite for the Tingle Creek, but he was outjumped and outfought by Politologue fair and square there. On his best form, he has to be taken seriously here and he’s completely unexposed at this trip.
Whilst Bristol De Mai strolled over the line in the Betfair, Tea For Two and Outlander had already been long beaten to the tune of over 60 lengths, but many are of the opinion that they did not show their very best. That is certainly possible given that both of their career best performances came on half decent ground.
Tea For Two is a former winner of the Kauto Star Novice’ Chase who got the better of Cue Card by a neck in the Betfred Bowl last season around Aintree, the most similar course to Kempton bar the left handedness, and has not had ideal conditions to be seen at his best so far this season.
Outlander, just two starts ago, was taking the JN.Wine Champion Chase when getting the better of Road To Riches, who had won a Grade 1 novice chase at the backend of last season. With DIsko staying at home, his presence would be interesting given that he is also the winner of the last year’s Lexus Chase, yet can be backed at 50/1.
Double Shuffle and Traffic Fluide are useful horses but likely to be outclassed in this company.
1 pt each/way Whisper, 2017 King George VI Chase (10/1 general)
1 pt each/way Whisper, 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup (16/1 general)