Tony Calvin: Can Clan Des Obeaux upset Might Bite in the King George?
The Boxing Day extravaganza is nearly upon us. Tony Calvin looks ahead at the antepost betting markets before the King George...
"I'm not sure what the Irish challenge will consist of - we haven't seen Disko for ages, but I am massive fan of the horse - but the other horse I have to mention is Clan Des Obeaux. "
The King George has bite
The message has come down from on high that I should have a look at the King George, so here we go.
The market is headed by Might Bite, who is out to [4.0] on the exchange after his lack-lustre display in the Betfair Chase. He has traded at a low of [2.42].
He was never really travelling with his customary verve and panache at Haydock - whether it was a very rare off-day, or the stiffer fences did have an impact, the jury is still out - and the question for punters now is to forgive and forget or view that as the start of a wider decline?
I must admit that I am inclined to take a pretty negative view of that effort.
Yes, it was his first outing of the season and that clearly wasn't his true running.
However, you can't really make the argument that his gruelling second to Native River in the Gold Cup - and that race has left its mark on a fair few down the years - bottomed him given that he came out and thrashed Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux at Aintree.
In short, it's a bit of a mystery.
But you have to say that his length defeat of the then-rated 151 Double Shuffle in this race last year is one of the least impressive renewals in recent years. Indeed, the runner-up has fallen to a mark of 157 (he was raised to 166 after that Kempton run) after some underwhelming runs since.
Waiting Patiently is currently the second favourite at [6.4], and you have to marvel at the progression he has made since winning a Sedgefield handicap chase off a mark of just 123 in November 2016.
He is a course winner and he was very impressive when beating an on-song Cue Card, with Frodon 15 lengths away in third, in the Betfair Ascot Chase in February.
Unbeaten over fences, he is now only 2lb shy of Might Bite on official figures. He does have his stamina to prove - that Ascot win over 2m5f was the longest trip he has faced - but there is little argument as regards his talent and rate of improvement. And this will be just 10th start.
Expect to hear and read a lot about the "North's Great Hope" in the next week or so.
Is Politologue a dark horse?
Politologue is another who will be racing over 3m for the first time on Boxing Day, but he has undoubtedly improved when stepping up from 2m on his last two starts, when fitted in a hood and tongue-tie.
And this strong-traveller posted a career-best, in my eyes at least - though his defeat of the recent John Durkan winner Min (he beat Shattered Love and Balko Des Flos at Punchestown) in the Melling Chase last season was not too shoddy - when giving Charbel 6lb and ½-length beating at Ascot on his reappearance.
I have my doubts about his stamina but Charbel painted that Ascot win in an even better light when bolting up in the Peterborough Chase next time.
If Might Bite's win in the King George last season hasn't really stood the test of time, then Thistlecrack's 2016 victory can't be rated that highly either, for all that he put up a pretty breath-taking performance there.
He has had his problems since and he didn't jump as well as will be required here in the Betfair Chase last time. Maybe it was those pesky stiffer fences, but he didn't impress, though that Haydock run did go a long way to suggesting the engine remains intact.
The Betfair Chase 1-2 of Bristol De Mai and Native River are next in the betting.
The former clearly excels at Haydock, and all his best form has come left-handed (though he has won a Scilly Isles at Sandown), but at least his win last time put to bed the thoughts in some places that he needed it hock-deep to shine.
Native River is the best horse in here on official figures courtesy of his Gold Cup defeat of Might Bite, and he ran a tremendous race on his return.
Whether you believe 3m around Kempton is enough of a stamina test for him depends if you buy into the argument that an end-to-end gallop around this course mitigates against that the seeming speed-favouring nature of the layout.
I've no idea, myself.
Christmas Presenting Percy
What I do know is that the next confirmation stage (and supplementary stage) on Thursday could see a market shake-up if Presenting Percy is put into the race.
He looked a proper star-in-waiting when winning the RSA by 7 lengths - Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up a similar distance away in third - and he would be a major player if rocking up.
All his recent form has come on testing ground, but he bolted up in a Pertemps on good, albeit from a mark of 146.
It appears that Frodon won't be put into the race at a cost of £10,000 on Thursday, but I would be tempted after his win in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup off a mark of 164 on Saturday.
Yes, he has come up short in Grade 1 company before but don't forget he had a wind op before the start of the current campaign, and he has clearly progressed markedly since.
He is now on the coat-tails of the market leaders, form-wise, he is still just six, and he has a course win to his name and sees out 3m well enough (though I accept all his best efforts have come over lesser trips).
This does look a race with plenty of depth this year though, and I haven't even mentioned the likes of a Gold Cup winner in Coneygree, as well as trusty souls like Tea For Two, and last year's runner-up, and course specialist, Double Shuffle, who did show more at Aintree last time.
I'm not sure what the Irish challenge will consist of - we haven't seen Disko for ages, but I am massive fan of the horse - but the other horse I have to mention is Clan Des Obeaux.
He didn't deliver for me when fourth in the Betfair Chase but I thought he ran an excellent race there nonetheless, a career-best in all probability, and I think there is a lot more to come from this 6yo.
If he gets to the race, then he will certainly be on my radar at the current prices (the Betfair Sportsbook is an industry-best 25/1 at the time of writing).
For the time being though, it's a powder-dry moment and we will see what Thursday brings.
And I'll be back on Friday. In the meantime, good luck.