There’s no shortage of sparkle on Boxing Day as the young Irish pretenders to the Cheltenham Gold Cup crown go toe-to-toe against the best England has to offer in the King George VI Chase.
With the peace proving more dangerous than the war for reigning Gold Cup champ Coneygree who has been ruled out for the season the focus switches to Silviniaco Conti’s attempted three-peat in Kempton’s feature race on Saturday. Paul Nicholls’ runner is a past master around this track & trip on heavy ground – but the challenge looks deeper this year and he’s yet to fire in two runs this season.
The relatively new kid-on-the block Don Cossack has been imperious in his last four wins and is now the highest-rated chaser in training. He’s the form pony in the race and could still be on the up despite being just a couple days short of his ninth birthday.
There’s no doubt he has the class but just needs to convince some of the doubters that he’s got the guts for a mid-winter rumble with the big boys and not just a small-field bully when the sun is out. If he’s up for it, then Irish trainer Gordon Elliott could become the first trainer in a decade to replace Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson in the King George Roll of Honour as our snazilly designed infographic (below) shows.
England’s national treasure Cue Card has seen a Leicester City-like ascension through the ranks this year after a breathing operation seemed to have unearthed the class he’s always shown on a more consistent basis. He’s had three cracks at this prize already though without winning but if you like letting your heart rule your head – he’s the one.
After impressive wins at Wincanton and Haydock Park in his last two starts, he could give Don Cossack most to do.
Major hat tip to designer Eleonore Kellenberger for this Infographic
Vautour was the ante-post fav for the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup at the start of the season but ruined it with a workman-like win at Ascot that left a lot of pundits questioning whether he’ll stay three miles in a straight line around Kempton’s tight right-handed bends.
Top jock Ruby Walsh certainly thinks so and who are we to argue with Ruby? He’s a very good arguer.
Alan King’s Smad Place comes into the race on the back of his Hennessy Gold Cup demolition job and is a course winner while Vautour’s stable-mate Valseur Lido chased home Djakaadam at Punchestown earlier this month and won a Grade One Novice Chase at Punchestown with Irish Cavalier five lengths back in fourth ahead of an off-form Don Poli.
Gold Cup contenders in the making or the consolation prize of the Ryanair Chase fav next March? We’ll be a lot wiser come 3.15pm on Saturday.