King George Preview: Tizzard holds the right Card

Cue Card is fancied to make a bold bid in the King George

Timeform's Tony McFadden takes an ante-post look at the festive showpiece, the King George VI Chase...

The step up to three miles is a journey into the unknown for Cue Card, but his breeding offers encouragement that he will stay and, though unproven, it would be dangerous to dismiss the only horse that has given Sprinter Sacre the merest semblance of a race over fences...

They say that a week is a long time in politics. Well, in the world of highly-strung, fragile racehorses a mere 24 hours can seem like an eternity. The manner in which the complexion of this year's King George has changed finely demonstrates the point. In the space of a day, Al Ferof, a leading fancy, was ruled out for the season, Sizing Europe, who had been presumed a likely participant, became a doubtful runner, and Sir des Champs, presumed to be Lexus-bound, was suddenly put back in contention. Of course people expressed sympathy to the connections of Al Ferof, but let us not forget the poor racing writers trying to pen a preview in the midst of all this confusion! Fortunately, though our working out has changed, the end result remains the same: Cue Card wins.

Long Run's 2011 Gold Cup triumph, where he overhauled the popular veterans Denman and Kauto Star, appeared to establish his presence as the leading staying chaser; the fact he was capable of winning that most prestigious prize as a six-year-old, the first to do so since Mill House in 1963, led to the popular belief that he would be the dominant force in the division for the foreseeable future. However, just 21 months later, and with only one victory (at odds-on) since that famous triumph, his reputation, if not quite tarnished, doesn't carry the same aura.

In truth, the anticipated 'changing of the guard' never really materialised: Long Run was overturned by Kauto Star in the King George before spurning a great opportunity to join the elite band of horses to have won back-to-back Gold Cups at Cheltenham in March. No longer the up-and comer, Long Run, now a regular competitor in the most prestigious prizes, has to fend off a couple of new, dangerous rivals; while he remains the one to beat, particularly as his two career-best performances on the figures have come in the King George, he looks slightly vulnerable, trading at 3.65.

Last year's novices have created a huge impression, winning plenty of valuable prizes over a variety of distances, highlighting the strength in depth of the crop. In fact, it would probably be easier to list the prestigious races that haven't fallen their way this year, such has been their dominance. One of the first horses to get the ball rolling, winning the Haldon Gold Cup in the early stages of the season, was Colin Tizzard's stable star Cue Card. A devastating winner of the Champion Bumper on only his second start, Cue Card stamped himself as one of the leading novice hurdlers two seasons ago before proving even more effective over fences, his season culminating in a most-meritorious second in the Arkle, finding only the imperious Sprinter Sacre too strong. True, that effort came over the minimum distance of two miles, but he very nearly gave the top-notch Bobs Worth 7lb and a beating over two-and-a-half miles, his short-head defeat more attributable to jockey error than any lack of stamina.

The step up to three miles is a journey into the unknown for Cue Card, but his breeding offers encouragement that he will stay and, though unproven, it would be dangerous to dismiss the only horse that has given Sprinter Sacre the merest semblance of a race over fences. 

One novice from last season expected to make an impact in open company was Grands Crus, but he disappointed on his seasonal return in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Given an obvious chance by the handicapper, David Pipe's grey palpably failed to give his running and has subsequently undergone a breathing operation in an attempt to cure whatever was ailing him. It should be stated that, at the time of writing, his participation remains unclear and, allied with doubts about his physical well-being, it is hard to recommend backing him at this stage. However, it is hard to forget his impressive win in the Feltham, over the same C&D as the King George, where he dispatched Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth with a bit in hand. A return to that level of form would make him a leading player and he is respected, for all the prevailing doubts prevent advocating a bet on him.

Barry Geraghty faces a dilemma about who to partner in the race as he has the choice of riding two of Nicky Henderson's high-class trio of runners. Finian's Rainbow is one of the many horses with proven speed but unproven stamina that makes this such a fascinating renewal, while Riverside Theatre, his other option, has the more solid credentials, having finished second in this race two seasons ago and boasts a good record fresh. Although, it has come to light during writing this preview, that Geraghty may not have a decision to make after all as Finian's Rainbow has drifted out to 55.054/1 on Betfair, indicating he is far from a certain starter.

The fact promising horses such as Champion Court and For Non Stop are trading at such big prices serves to underline just how competitive this year's renewal is. Sir des Champs would be another intriguing runner but, although Willie Mullins may have announced that he is undecided about his target, you suspect that the Lexus remains favourite and he is not an ante-post proposition with doubts surrounding his participation. 

It would be foolish to dismiss Long Run; he is highly likely to be on the premises once again, especially when you consider how well he has performed over this C&D in the past. However, his jumping is likely to come under extreme pressure given the amount of pace in the race, and it is difficult to escape the fact that he has often been finding at least one too good. Excuses are starting to build now and he faces a highly-promising opponent in Cue Card, who remains open to improvement and comes into the race on the back of a career-best effort.

Recommendation: Back Cue Card @ 5.69/2 in the King George VI Chase

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