Matt Tombs / Wednesday 24th December 2014 / 15:14
With Ma Filleule missing the race, it’s time to look afresh at the King George market. What jumps out immediately is that there are 6 horses at 8/1 or shorter, (28/1 bar,) of which 5 are speed horses who want decent ground, whereas the favourite Silviniaco Conti (5/2) wants rain and lots of it. That’s not because he doesn’t go on good ground – he does. It’s just that he’s the only guaranteed stayer in the whole field, (which is extraordinary in a King George.)
If the heavens open, he’ll be very hard to beat as he should outstay the others, but the ground is currently good to soft, soft in places, with no material rain forecast – I wouldn’t be surprised if it rides just on slow side of good by Boxing Day. With so many faster horses opposing him, I’m expecting one of them will stay and do Silviniaco Conti for toe.
Champagne Fever (5/1) is the most interesting. Having won the Bumper and a soft ground Supreme at the Festival, he was just done for boot in a fast ground Arkle. He’s bred to stay and shapes like a stayer – but that doesn’t mean he will stay 3m. He’s bottom rated officially (158) and the 4 he beat at Clonmel (over 2m4f) to have run again have been well beaten. I’m not opposing him because I don’t rate him, I’m a big fan, but 9/2 is too short in a race where 2nd season chasers have a bad record, (only Kicking King and Long Run have won this century,) and he has to prove his stamina.
Cue Card (7/1) would be the most likely winner on last season’s form. He beat Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair and then just ran out of petrol between the last 2 in this on soft ground. Better going ought to suit but he had quite a serious injury in the spring and hasn’t looked the same horse in 2 runs this season in the Haldon and Betfair. If he’s just been taking time to come to himself then he’s a live contender, but I’d want to see evidence he retains his ability before backing him.
I think the value now lies with the other 3 main contenders, Al Ferof, Dynaste and Menorah. Menorah (8/1) had looked a non-stayer at 3m, but has been a revelation in his last 3 chases. He was impressive over 2m6f at Sandown in April and then bolted up under the maximum penalty in the Charlie Hall, (Double Ross and Silviniaco Conti well behind.) Silviniaco Conti turned the form round at Haydock, and whilst he doubtless improved for the run, I think the soft ground beat Menorah. Back on a sounder surface I doubt there’ll be much between them again and Menorah must be the better value of the pair.
I’ve backed Dynaste (8/1) for the Gold Cup and seem to be the only person around who thinks he’ll get the trip. He was an impressive winner of the Feltham 2 seasons ago but pulled muscles in this last season. After winning an ordinary Ryanair he’s been beaten twice by Silviniaco Conti – at Aintree and in the Betfair. I was a bit disappointed with his performance at Haydock as he’s gone well fresh in the past. If that has blown the cobwebs away he’s right in this, but I’m starting to wonder if he’s not as good as I thought.
The one I want to back is Al Ferof (6/1). He looked a top class prospect when routing the Paddy Power field 2 years ago off 159. Injury then intervened and he didn’t look the same horse when he returned last season. However, he was apparently suffering from a particularly bad case of ulcers, which has now been cured.
If it’s taken literally, his Amlin win is arguably the best form on offer from this season. He gave 4lb to Somersby and beat him an easy 7l, (Somersby was then 2½l 2nd in the Tingle Creek). Wishfull Thinking, (also receiving 4lb and beaten 9l,) had won the Old Roan off 162 and then won the Peterborough. Al Ferof apparently only came back into training in September, in which case with normal improvement for the run, he looks capable of winning championship races.
Since winning a point in May 2009, he’s only had two goes at 3m, both last season when under the weather. I think he’s crying out for 3m, (on breeding he ought to stay,) and he’s got as much ability as any of these. I think he should be challenging for favouritism and so at 6/1 he’s got to be backed to finally fulfill his potential.
1pt Al Ferof to win the King George @ 6/1
I think the market has the Kauto Star (Feltham) novices chase about right. I really like Saphir Du Rheu but 11/8 is a fair reflection of his chances.
Slightly to my surprise I’ve found a betting opportunity in the Christmas Hurdle. Faugheen looks a monster and I’m hoping to see him annihilate these and confirm himself as favourite for the Champion Hurdle. It’s his first run in open company at this sort of trip though and 4/9 looks about right – if he gets turned over everyone will be saying that he was all hype and too short a price.
What doesn’t look right is the prices of the other 3 main contenders. Sign Of A Victory (15/2) won cheekily at Ascot by ½l off 139, beating subsequent winner Dawalan. I’m not sure how much Barry Geraghty was holding onto there and the vibes from the Henderson camp haven’t been suggesting he’s a Grade 1 horse. He looks to have plenty to do.
Irving (11/2) and Purple Bay (20/1) clashed in the Elite at Wincanton. Ignoring claims, Purple Bay was giving Irving 6lb there. The more I watch the race, the less likely I think it is that Irving would have won had he stood up. He probably improved for the run when taking a poor renewal of the Fighting Fifth but it’s hard to see why he’s 5/1 and Purple Bay is 20/1.
I’d never thought I’d be backing Purple Bay in a Grade 1. He looks far from straightforward and was being niggled along for most of the Elite, but found a real turn of foot at the business end to sprint clear. The form looks solid with Rock On Ruby and Starluck also winners since.
Given how well Faugheen stays, I imagine Ruby Walsh will ensure it’s a true test, (he won’t want it developing into a sprint for Irving.) That might just set it up for Purple Bay. It’s more likely he’ll find this too much like hard work, but if he puts his best foot forward and Faugheen fluffs his lines, I think he’s as likely as any of them to take advantage. 20/1 is too big with AP McCoy a perfect booking to extract every bit of ability from Purple Bay.
1pt Purple Bay to win the Christmas Hurdle @ 20/1
I can’t see Vautour getting turned over in the Grade 1 novice chase (2m1f) at Leopardstown – he does deserve to be as short as 1/3, so I’m looking to the following day (27th) at Leopardstown which features the open Grade 1 2m1f Dial-A-Bet Chase.
Willie Mullins has said he plans to run all 3 of his entries – Ballycasey (100/30), Felix Yonger (14/1) and Twinlight (20/1). I’ve been a backer of all 3 in the past and had thought Ballycasey might be a smart bet at fancy odds, but he’s a ridiculous price for a horse with virtually no form over this sort of trip. I’m much keener on Felix Yonger who was apparently reported by Ruby Walsh as ‘coming back to himself’ before winning the Hilly Way on unsuitably testing ground last time.
Barring a 48-hour change of heart, it’s great to see the British being well represented. That’s because both Uxizandre (5/2) and Simply Ned (10/1) like going left-handed, (the alternative race in Britain being at right-handed Kempton.) The form of their Shloer 1-2 looks all the better after Dodging Bullets won the Tingle Creek. The ground was awful by the time the Shloer was run and if the ground remains yielding, I think Uxizandre could get tapped for toe.
I’m expecting one of the less exposed horses to improve past Sizing Europe (12/1) and Hidden Cyclone (7/1) – the other likely improver is Bright New Dawn (14/1) but I think he might be better at intermediate trips, so I’m taking all 3 on.
It’s a tough call between two old friends Felix Yonger and Simply Ned. The latter just gets the vote – I think he can turn round the form with Uxizandre on much better ground and the Shloer form is probably the best on offer from this season. If the ground were to deteriorate, I’d be much less confident, but let's go in now in case the race cuts up.
1pt Simply Ned to win the Dial-A-Bet Chase @ 10/1
Finally, I think Corrin Wood (8/1) could be lobbed in off 147 in the 3m1f Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby. He and Annacotty cut each other’s throats in the RSA and he blew up badly at Sandown on his belated reappearance. That should have put him straight for this and he’s down 9lb from his mark going into the RSA. Unless Cape Tribulation bounces back this looks a weak race for the grade and Donald McCain was thinking of the King George for Corrin Wood at the start of the season. He can get his career back on track here before moving up to conditions races.
1pt Corrin Wood to win the Rowland Meyrick @ 8/1