The King George VI Chase, due off at 3.05 p.m. at Kempton on Boxing Day, once again looks like serving up a festive treat for National Hunt fans. The ante post market for the Kempton showpiece is dominated by last year’s winner, Might Bite (3/1, in a place), but Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old is on a retrieval mission after trailing in last of five, beaten 28¾ lengths, behind Bristol De Mai (7/1) in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Henderson believes Might Bite was unsettled by the big, solid fences at Haydock on that occasion, but his mercurial ‘chaser is short enough at the odds on offer.
Bristol De Mai finished 25¾ lengths behind Might Bite in this race last year, so Native River (15/2, in a place) and Thistlecrack (7/1), who were second and third, respectively, in the Betfair Chase, make more appeal. Native River, of course, beat Might Bite by 4½ lengths after an epic duel in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March and, while he has the ‘Blue Riband’ event as his main aim again this season, looks a leading contender if the going at Kempton remains on the soft side of good.
Thistlecrack, who won this race in 2016 before finishing fourth, beaten 5¾ lengths, behind Might Bite last season, suffered a stress fracture last January, which precluded a clash with Native River in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, the ten-year-old is now apparently fully recovered and, while he lacks experience over fences compared with his rivals, remains one to take seriously.
Waiting Patiently (5/1) hasn’t been seen since beating Cue Card by 2¾ lengths in the Ascot Chase, over 2 miles 5 furlongs, in February and, although he tackles 3 miles for the first time, is unbeaten over fences and doesn’t have much to find on official ratings. He could be a potential fly-in-the-ointment if fit and ready to go after a 312-day break.
Politologue (11/2) is another who needs to prove his stamina over 3 miles after winning over 2 miles 5 furlongs at Ascot, in his case in the Christy 1965 Chase, in which he beat subsequent easy winner Charbel by half a length. The exciting grey has 7lb, or 8lb, to find with the best of these of on official figures, but trainer Paul Nicholls believes he’ll stay 3 miles and, if so, must enter the reckoning.
At much longer odds, 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Coneygree (40/1, in a place), now rising 12 years of age, has had his problems, but deserves an honourable mention after a highly promising return to action when third of 15, beaten 5¾ lengths, in the Betvictor.com Handicap Chase, over 3 miles 3½ furlongs, at Cheltenham last month under 11st 12lb.
Win or lose, Native River has done very little wrong in recent seasons and, with the going likely to remain on the soft side, makes most appeal at the odds on offer.
Selection: Kempton 3.05 Native River (15/2 with Betfair Sportsbook) to win