King George VI Chase
Tuesday, 26th December
1. BRISTOL DE MAI (NIGEL TWISTON-DAVIES/Daryl Jacob)
Top-class chaser who produced best effort last term when winning Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock by 22 lengths. Returned in fine style when landing Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby (by half a length from stablemate Blaklion) in November, and took further step forward when making all in six-runner Betfair Chase back at Haydock last month, impressively by 57 lengths from Cue Card. Very best form on testing going, but acts on any ground and looks an obvious danger to all.
2. DOUBLE SHUFFLE (TOM GEORGE/Adrian Heskin)
Won handicap over C&D (by three and a half lengths from Go Conquer) in 2016/17, improving again when half a length second to Pilgrims Bay in similar event two months later. Unsurprisingly pulled up in Grand National on next start. Second on both starts over shorter this term, good eight lengths second to Top Notch in 1965 Chase at Ascot last time, though no match for winner. Will benefit from return to 3m on flat track here and capable of outrunning long odds if taking up this engagement (also entered in 21f graduation chase at Ascot on Saturday).
3. FOX NORTON (COLIN TIZZARD/Bryan Cooper)
Top-class chaser who won four times in 2016/17, following head-defeat in Champion Chase with wins in Melling Chase at Aintree and Boylesports Champion Chase at Punchestown. Landed Shloer Chase at Cheltenham (for second successive year, by eight lengths from Cloudy Dream) on reappearance and not helped by early mistake when respectable half a length second to Politologue in Tingle Creek Chase last time, sticking to task well from the last. Stays 2½m well enough so extra half-mile here on decent ground should be within range, and more likely than some to run his race. Respected.
4. MIGHT BITE (NICKY HENDERSON/Nico de Boinville)
Top-class chaser who won four times in 2016/17, bouncing back from final fence fall when clear in Kauto Star Novices' Chase (Feltham) over C&D to win RSA Chase at Cheltenham (by nose from Whisper, in command when veering badly right run-in) and Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree (by two lengths from same rival, jumping impeccably). Completed four-timer in small-field listed event at Sandown on reappearance by eight lengths from Frodon, jumping boldly and asserting three out. Could have some of his rivals in trouble a long way out given his attacking style, and deservedly heads the betting.
5. TEA FOR TWO (NICK WILLIAMS/Lizzie Kelly)
Won graduation event at Exeter and Bowl Chase at Aintree (by neck from Cue Card) in 2016/17. Improved for reappearance over inadequate trip in Old Roan when fourth to Bristol de Mai in Betfair Chase last time, shaping better than distance beaten suggests, simply finding test too much in testing conditions. Should be happier on better ground here, with return to this track also in his favour having won Kauto Star Novices' Chase in 2015 and not far off best form when close-up fourth in this race 12 months ago. Not totally discounted once more, but this looks a much stronger renewal on paper.
6. THISTLECRACK (COLIN TIZZARD/Tom Scudamore)
Developed into leading staying hurdler in 2015/16, successful five times, including World Hurdle at Cheltenham. Progressed with each start over fences last season, showing top-class form when winning this race as a novice, by three and a quarter lengths from Cue Card. Injured tendon when second to ill-fated Many Clouds in Cotswold Chase on next start, and nowhere near that level after 10 months off when fifth in Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury earlier this month. Something to prove after that, but this has been his long-term target for a while and no surprise to see him back to his best. Major player if that happens.
7. TRAFFIC FLUIDE (GARY MOORE/Joshua Moore)
Smart chaser at best nowadays, best recent effort when seven and a half lengths sixth to Special Tiara in Champion Chase at Cheltenham in 2016/17. Well below form in Betfair Chase last time and hard to see him troubling the principles on any known form.
8. WHISPER (NICKY HENDERSON/Aidan Coleman)
Top-class chaser who won novice and Dipper Novices' Chase (by half a length from Clan des Obeaux) in 2016/17, both at Cheltenham. Also good second to stablemate Might Bite on final two starts, in RSA Chase at same course and Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree. As good as ever when landing 2½m graduation event here (by half a length from Clan des Obeaux again, form franked since by runner-up) on return, and better than ever when neck second of 20 to Total Recall in Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury last time, leading on bridle three out and keeping on well despite big weight. Subsequent 12 lb rise in weights makes long-term target of Grand National less likely. Usually responds generously to pressure, has plenty of class, and a big run expected accordingly.
Timeform King George VI Chase 1-2-3
2. Might Bite
3. Fox Norton
Timeform King George VI Chase Analyst's Verdict
WHISPER found Might Bite too strong in Grade 1 novices last spring but his excellent weight-carrying performance in the Ladbroke suggests he's returned in even better form and he might represent a bit of value to turn the tables on his stablemate. Fox Norton leaves the impression he could stay this trip and merits respect, while Bristol de Mai would very much come into it if the ground eases.