King George 2016: Three Horses that can beat Cue Card

Cue Card is back for a fifth run in the King George on December 26th but he won't have it easy at Kempton.
Cue Card is back for a fifth run in the King George on December 26th but he won't have it easy at Kempton.

Cue Card finally won a King George at the fifth attempt last year and is a strong favourite to win again in 2016. As Tony Keenan points out, however, it will not be easy for him...

"But defeats will always be part of Cue Card’s legacy; he has become a cult hero because Colin Tizzard has never been afraid of losing with him and it makes the bounce-back effort all the more sweet."

UPDATE DECEMBER 19: On Monday, it was confirmed that Thistlecrack WILL run, while Coneygree won't.

Lots of things have beaten Cue Card in his 33-race career. A combination of needing the run and self-admitted jockey error by Paddy Brennan cost him victory in this year's Charlie Hall while defeats last season were caused by fall in the Gold Cup and being over-the-top at Punchestown. Even his losses in the King George, a race he will be running in for the fifth consecutive year, come with a story; he was too keen after an early mistake in 2012 before simply being out-of-form in 2014.

It was Cue Card's defeat in 2013 that baffled at the time and still does in truth; trading as low as 1.11/10, he looked to have the race won from after two out only to falter on the run to the last and get passed by Silviniaco Conti. That was one of those bizarre King George moments though not as bizarre as the idiot Santa running in front of Kicking King in 2004.

That strange capitulation put the doubt about his stamina in the mind of many and it has only recently been exercised with last year's victory in the Kempton feature, at the fourth time of asking, playing a big part. But defeats will always be part of Cue Card's legacy; he has become a cult hero because Colin Tizzard has never been afraid of losing with him and it makes the bounce-back effort all the more sweet.

Current quotes of 2.447/5 confirm that he is much the most likely winner of this year's King George but there are certainly a few horses that could yet beat him on merit and three in particular spring to mind.

The Master's Apprentice: Thistlecrack

That Thistlecrack can beat Cue Card is hardly in doubt; he is rated 174 over hurdles as against Cue Card's 176 mark over fences and he is a shorter price for the Gold Cup too so there is a distinct possibility that he is simply a better horse. Unbeaten since November last, Thistlecrack has won nine of his ten starts over three miles and was unlucky not to win the other when meeting trouble-in-running at Punchestown.

His jumping remains a concern against experienced and talented rivals as he's only beaten a combined 11 rivals over fences and has made mistakes though it would have to be seen as a positive were Tizzard to consider him up to this task. Should he take part, the market should be fascinating and the Sportsbook currently have him at 15/8 with a run while Cue Card is 11/8.

The Vanquished Rival: Coneygree

A cursory glance at the form of the Betfair Chase suggests that the connections of Coneygree would be better to aim him at the Lexus Chase in their bid for a Christmas Grade 1; he was 15 lengths behind Cue Card which is a lot of ground to get back. He was having his first run in over a year that day though while the winner was fit so should be fitter now while the speed-favouring Haydock track was not in his favour.

Three miles at Kempton is not the Gold Cup in terms of a stamina test but it's a tougher examination than the Betfair Chase and it's worth remembering that Coneygree blew apart a Grade 1 novice chase her in 2014, winning by some 40 lengths. The suspicion remains, however, that the form of his 2015 Gold Cup win doesn't quite match Cue Card's efforts over the last twelve months.

The Mystery: The Irish Challenge

As is so often the case with the Mullins yard, we don't know what is going on with his plans weeks in advance. One thing that seems clear is that Douvan is an unlikely runner with the trainer keen to quell any speculation of a three mile campaign after his win in the Hilly Way last week. If Mullins didn't want to travel for an ideal race like the Tingle Creek it seems hard to believe he will run here.

The 'super-sub' Vroum Vroum Mag is a different case and a Christmas run for her seems likely; where that outing will be remains unclear as she has five entries at the time of writing. Realistically, a hurdles run seems more likely as she hasn't run over fences in 13 months but stranger things have certainly happened with the Mullins yard.

A real curveball could be the participation of Valseur Lido who fell when beaten in the race last year. He's looked an improved model this year but his owner seems to have more interest in winning races at home before Cheltenham so we may have to wait until March to see him in the UK.

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