Boxing Day ITV Racing Tips: A trio of selections for Kempton's superb King George card
Kempton Park on Boxing day is one of the racing highlights of the whole season and this year's six-race card, including the King George, is stacked full of quality. Tony Calvin looks at each race and provides his trio of tips...
"Yes, she needs to improve a stone to beat a peak-form Buveur D'Air, but she has her ideal set-up here, and her change of gears in the closing stages could make things very interesting on this ground."
You can keep that Festival in March (for now), Kempton's Boxing Day meeting is class all the way - I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I said tingle - and Cheltenham would love it if their Gold Cup was half as enthralling as the King George at 15:05.
Whether or not it lends itself to being a betting vehicle is another matter, but let's take a look.
Superb line-up for the King George
It has been no surprise to see Might Bite drift out to around 10/3 on the exchange, as he was very poor when last of five in the Betfair Chase - the first four home all re-oppose here - and this is a far formidable contest than the one in which he beat Double Shuffle and Tea For Two in last year.
I appreciate that wasn't his stellar performance from last season - those were his Aintree defeat of Bristol De Mai, and his earlier strong-travelling second to Native River in the Gold Cup - but I'd still want more than 3/1+ to side with him here against this field, however much connections appear confident he will leave that Haydock run a long way behind (not that I am sure they know what went wrong there).
And, boy, what a field it is.
The unbeaten Waiting Patiently and Politologue are the two up-and-comers but both have their stamina to prove - and it would be some training performance if the former won this first-time-out in a race with this Grade 1 depth - and we also have the Gold Cup winner Native River and the 2016 winner of the race, Thistlecrack.
The money has come for Native River in the last 24 hours and it is not hard to see why, as he is comfortably the best in here on official figures and he shaped very well behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair.
Whether or not this track and good to soft ground will see him at his absolute best is the question, and many will probably want to side with the Haydock winner again, for all that he blew out in this race last year.
Thistlecrack jumped ponderously when third in the Betfair Chase and no doubt Colin Tizzard will have been working studiously on that area at home since; certainly, he was pretty electric when beating Cue Card here two years ago.
Clan set to run a big race but they all have chances
Whichever way I look, I see positives and negatives against all of the 10 runners, and a measure of how deep the race is that no-one would be surprised if any of the three outsiders - 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree, last year's runner-up Double Shuffle and three-time course winner Tea For Two, third and fourth in last two renewals - grabbed a place.
My gut feel is that Clan Des Obeaux, just fourth in that Betfair Chase, is poised to run a massive race and is a big price at [20.0], even though he is the small matter of 16lb shy of Native River on official figures.
But if I had to write down the case for him - improving 6yo, may be better going right-handed - it wouldn't fill half a sentence. Or fill anyone with any betting confidence. And that is never a good look.
So I am afraid I will have to wheel out that well-worn tipster phrase. It's a race to watch rather than bet in, but good luck if you think otherwise. Which I suspect you will. It maybe not be the first time you read that today.
High class but tricky opener to the card
The six-runner 2m novices' hurdle at 12:50 is no easier to solve, with the layers believing that the Ascot form that saw Didtheyleaveuoutto beat Thomas Darby a head is the best piece of form going into the race.
That is debatable considering impressive Haydock winner The Big Bite is officially 5lb clear of Rouge Vif on ratings, with the above pair close behind, but it just goes to underline the close-knit nature of this contest, and the unpenalised Newbury runner-up Mister Fisher is not far behind them, either.
Clear-cut Southwell winner Rouge Vif is probably over-priced at double-digit odds but he didn't hurdle that fluently late on last time (albeit it was Southwell) and slick jumping could be the difference between victory and defeat here. No bet.
Glen has excellent chance of defying weight rise
The Betfair Sportsbook are offering an extra place in the 13:20 and that is enough to tempt me in to my first wager of the day.
Step forward Glen Forsa at 9/2 each-way, four places.
I know it is not the usual price we play at and 2m4f110yd around here could be sharp enough for him, but you had to be very taken with the manner of his victory over an extended 2m7f on soft at Chepstow last time, where he travelled and jumped superbly and won in a good time.
This is a much different test here but this unexposed 6yo won a 1m5f Huntingdon bumper on his debut, so he doesn't lack pace, and there are plenty of potential front-runners in here for him to latch onto.
If he jumps as well, and gets into a rhythm, as he did at Chepstow last time - and I appreciate this race will be run at a different tempo - then I think he will go very close to defying an 11lb rise.
He represents the same trainer-owner combination who sent out Mister Whitaker to finish second to Hell's Kitchen in this race last year, so let's hope they don't bump into a similarly well-treated rival once again.
The main dangers are Lough Derg Spirit and Dell Oro, but I suppose the market is telling you that. Sorry, for being obvious.
High class renewal of the Kauto Star
If the King George has the "wow" factor, then the Kauto Star at 13:55 is not far behind in the stunning stakes. It has attracted an extraordinary talented field of seven, with five already rated 150 and above.
I've no idea what will win it.
Santini rightly heads the market. He is a Grade 1 winning hurdler who beat a subsequent runaway Grade 2 winner on his debut at Newbury, but I'm not sold on him being as short as 13/8 in this line-up.
Bags Groove jumped brilliantly when beating Thomas Campbell at Huntingdon last time and he would probably be my pick of the prices at 5/1, but then you have the likes of Topofthegame, The Worlds End and La Bague Au Roi in here, too. And Red Indian doesn't deserve to be a 33/1+ shot after what he did at Ayr.
So I am afraid I will have to wheel out that well-worn tipster phrase. It's a race to watch rather than bet in, but good luck if you think otherwise.
Progressive Verdana has a lot in her favour to cause an upset
If you believe the official ratings, and the betting, then Buveur D'Air will have little more than an exercise stroll in winning the Christmas Hurdle again at 14:30 but I have a sneaking suspicion an upset maybe on the cards here.
So back his stablemate Verdana Blue at 15/2 each-way with the Betfair Sportsbook (yes, I know the spectre of a non-runner looms large in this five-runner-heat, but there is £3,484 for fifth place, so I will take my chances). If there is a non-runner and the bet becomes win-only, then so be it.
Barry Geraghty was of the opinion that the favourite gave him his best-ever feel when winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on his reappearance, and the official ratings give him 13lb in hand of Verdana Blue.
Of course, he is very likely to win.
But the mare has everything in her favour here, and I'm convinced she is better than a mark of 152. If the favourite is going to be beaten, then she is the one to do it.
This is one progressive horse, as evidenced by her two Flat performances this season, including when second to a 107-rated winner in a 1m4f Listed race here last time.
Prior to that she had smashed Old Guard over course and distance, beaten If The Cap Fits in the Elite and met trouble rounding the bend at a crucial time before flying home to finish fourth in the Greatwood.
Yes, she needs to improve a stone to beat a peak-form Buveur D'Air, but she has her ideal set-up here, and her change of gears in the closing stages could make things very interesting on this ground. The each-way angle is the safety net. Hopefully, anyway.
Step up in trip could improve Bere
You have to respect Ballyandy returning to hurdles in the 15:40 and I was very tempted by Lord Of The Island returning after a long lay-off, but Divin Bere is my last bet of the day in the 2m5f handicap hurdle.
Back him at [11.0] or bigger (Betfair Sportsbook are offering 10/1, four places, at the time of writing and that is obviously worth considering).
He has never raced beyond 2m1f over hurdles, so stamina is a concern, but this is a horse that won over 2m1f at Bath on the Flat (obviously) on good to soft in October, so it could well be that he will improve for the extra distance in this sphere.
His last hurdling start - he ran over 1m4f here on all-weather last time - saw him beaten 15 lengths in the sub-2m Ascot handicap won by Fidux (from Global Citizen) but he ran a lot better than that suggests, travelling well throughout and only dropping away between the last two.
It could well be that he was simply outspeeded there, and he has been eased 1lb to a mark of 137. That is 2lb lower than his neck second in the 2017 Fred Winter, after which he ran Defi Du Seuil to 1½ lengths in the Grade 1 at Aintree.
If he stays, and I think he will, then he will be on the premises late on.
The headgear that he has been running in recently - but not when he won at Bath, or when at his best in 2017 - is left off here, but I actually think that could be a positive.
Back Glen Forsa, 9/2 each-way (four places) with Betfair Sportsbook in 13:20 at Kempton
Back Verdana Blue, 15/2 each way, with Betfair Sportsbook in 14:30 at Kempton
Back Divin Bere at [11.0] or bigger in 15:40 at Kempton (also available 10/1, four places, with Betfair Sportsbook)