We have little else to see before jump racing's Christmas highlight, but there is still value in the King George VI Chase betting - if you know where to look for the best bets.
One thing's for sure, our best bets for this year's King George will have everyyone dreaming of a grey Christmas at Kempton this December.
The King George VI Chase is a Grade 1 run at Kempton Park over a distance of about three miles, each year falling on December 26. The £250,000 test was first run in February 1937, and was named in honour of the then new British monarch, King George VI.
It was only run twice before World War II, during which Kempton Park was closed for racing and used as a prisoner-of-war camp. After the war the racecourse re-opened, and the event returned in 1947 on a new date – Boxing Day.
With prizemoney for that first post-war running greater than that on offer for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it quickly established itself as the mid-season championship for three-mile chasers.
The King George is a very fair test, and the flat nature of the track at Kempton means that the trend is for it to test a horse’s ability to travel and jump at speed, as well as stay the trip.
It is almost always run at a generous gallop, and although the track tends to favour speed over stamina as a rule, there is a trend for suspect stayers being caught out, while plodders, who might excel at Cheltenham when the going gets very deep, are often unable to live with the pace.
There have been a number of specialist two-milers who have run very well in the race, but in recent times, only Edredon Bleu has won while carrying the mantle of 'non-stayer' at the trip.
The demands of the King George are very different to those presented by other Grade 1 chases at three miles or further, and it tends to attract specialists, with 14 multiple winners, including Desert Orchid (four) and Kauto Star (five). There is no place at Kempton for the unfit, hesitant jumpers, plodders, or those who will shirk a battle.
Won the race last year, but no longer has the £1m Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown as an objective after a bitterly disappointing run in the Betfair Chase. His trainer described him as being “in panic mode” after making a couple of early errors over the notoriously stiff fences. Some cold water has been poured on the notion that he was spending too long in the air at subsequent fences, and he definitely has something to prove after that effort, especially in light of bullish noises going into that race.
Was a revelation last season, winning the Ascot Chase from Cue Card and Frodon, and he remains open to improvement, having only had six starts over fences. The problem isn’t so much that he has stamina to prove, as much as he missed the big spring festivals with a setback (was set to swerve Cheltenham in any case), but the fact his trainer is aiming him at the Christmas showpiece without the aid of a preparatory outing. Since its inception, not a single horse has triumphed in the King George without having at least one previous outing in the same season.
Ran with great credit in the Betfair Chase, but was unable to jump with his usual boldness, possibly due to the gallop set, on a speed-favouring track, taking him out of his comfort zone. Some questioned why jockey Richard Johnson didn’t attempt to force the pace and make the race more of a test, but to my eyes he was unable to do so without forcing his mount out of his natural rhythm.
That will be a concern at Kempton - he jumped right-handed when only third in the Kauto Star Chase at this meeting in his novice days, and has been kept to left-handed tracks subsequently. He has the class to go well, and rain would aid his cause, but there are negatives regarding the suitability of Kempton, especially if the going comes up quicker than soft.
Once again showed what an absolute monster he is at Haydock when beating Native River in the Betfair Chase, and those who would airbrush his 2017 win in the same race from history, must face the fact that given his conditions, he is a match for any horse in training. The problem backers face is that he ran a lifeless race in last year’s King George, and is a horse who is definitely best when relatively fresh.
The nature of the track should not be an issue, and he is clearly not reliant on heavy ground, while he went to Kempton last year on the back of two huge performances, which may have taken the edge off him. Missing Wetherby to go straight to the Betfair Chase may be a blessing in that regard, and while there will always be dissenting voices, he must be considered as a major contender, if not the ideal type to back each-way.
Is defending a remarkable record right-handed; he is unbeaten in seven starts going clockwise, the latest in the 1965 Chase over 2m5f at Ascot. That makes him a player, and he has a lot of class, but the general perception is that he tends to win his races through a high cruising speed and slick jumping rather than stamina - although he’s arguably been helped by the reapplication of a hood on recent starts.
His real disappointments have all come at Cheltenham, and in that regard he can be compared to his owner’s dual King George winner One Man, who stayed three miles well enough, but stopped to nothing up the Cheltenham hill on no less than three occasions. If we strip Politologue’s Cheltenham runs from his record, we’re still left with a horse with stamina to prove, but one who has shown tenacity to win good races on his last two starts, and who looks worth a try at further.
It’s worth re-watching the Ascot race without a preconceived idea as to whether Politologue is a stayer. At first viewing you may see him all out to withstand the finishing effort of Charbel, but without the dubious benefit of hindsight, is he not always holding the challenge of a high-class performer to whom he is conceding 6lb?
Disappointed some and pleased others when third to Bristol de Mai in the Betfair Chase, but the run certainly proved that almost all of his old ability remains intact. He would have finished much closer but for a series of minor errors at Haydock, and he wouldn’t have to improve enormously to get competitive in a race he’s won before.
The worry with him is that because of his issues over the last two seasons, it’s far from certain that he’ll be able to build as expected on his reappearance, and there is not a great deal of juice in his price given those doubts and his age, while his jumping as a novice was spectacular on the whole, and that element has been missing since.
Of those who contested the Betfair Chase, which has become the main guide to this, Bristol de Mai (8/1 888Sport) was clearly best in every department, and all five runners were making their reappearances, so talk of others needing the run is somewhat moot.
The grey is an enigma, but is clearly hard to train, and only able to show his brilliant best sparingly. Supporters will note that he did so on his first two starts last term before flopping, and making the King George his second start of the season is a clever adjustment.
He’s still liable to blow-out, but the merit of his Haydock win is undeniable, and making him bigger odds than horses he beat easily last time shows that he remains undervalued. He really ought to be suited by Kempton despite last year’s capitulation, and he needs to be included on any best bets shortlist.
The other horse who appeals is also one I’ve had to readjust my opinion about. Politologue (9/1 Bet365) has looked an uncertain stayer in the past, but like Bristol de Mai, is still only seven, and his few disappointments have come when racing at Cheltenham.
Few who have watched him win at Aintree and Ascot on his last two starts would suggest he was at the end of his tether on either occasion, and while I’d baulk at backing him in a bog, he looks as if the extra couple of furlongs will be within his scope, and a record of seven wins from as many runs right-handed bears close scrutiny.
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