A number of key events have shaped the King George VI picture in the early stages of this season, and though favourite Might Bite was only doing as expected when winning his reappearance in a listed race at Sandown in mid-November, he has continually shortened in the betting for the winter showpiece in recent months.
This has been due to the shortfalls/changing plans of some of his key rivals. Firstly, Gold Cup winner Sizing John missed the Betfair Chase - the first leg of the jumps triple crown - due to very testing ground and, with the £1 million bonus now off the table, he'll reportedly now be campaigned in Ireland until the Cheltenham Festival in March. Last year's one-two, Thistlecrack and Cue Card, haven't had the most encouraging starts to the season, with the former producing an uncharacteristically tame finishing effort in the Long Walk Hurdle (his first start since returning from a tendon injury), and Cue Card looking a shadow of his former self when well beaten in the Betfair.
Thistlecrack was very impressive when taking this race as a novice last season and some may well be able to forgive him a single bad run, though trainer Colin Tizzard hasn't been left with much time to turn things around (less than four weeks).
Tizzard's best chance of landing a third successive King George may well be Fox Norton, who now looks likely to run at Kempton with Sizing John (also in the colours of the late Alan Potts) staying in Ireland. Fox Norton has top-class form at both two and two and a half miles, producing his best effort over the latter when winning last season's Melling Chase at Aintree (by six lengths from Sub Lieutenant, eased towards finish). The King George was mentioned after that win, and though he would have stamina to prove (blessed with plenty of speed), he'd be worth a go at a sharp three miles, and doesn't have much to find on ratings with the likes of Thistlecrack and Might Bite.
Might Bite was in the process of winning last season's Kauto Star Novices' Chase (over the same C&D as this) in impressive fashion (18 lengths up) when falling at the last but made amends for that with Grade 1 wins at both Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring. His win in the RSA Chase has been the subject of much discussion since, 10 lengths to the good when making a mistake at the last then hanging badly right, handing a big chance to Whisper, before rallying to regain the lead on the line. Whisper ran a huge race (his best yet) to finish second in the Ladbrokes Trophy from a BHA mark of 161 last time, and though he has been beaten by the favourite twice, he isn't easily discounted here.
The other main contender is Bristol de Mai, winner of both of his starts this season, the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and the Betfair Chase at Haydock. His 57-length win in the latter was his best performance yet, setting a strong gallop on bottomless ground that his rivals simply could not live with. There's no doubt about whether he's tremendously effective at Haydock in the mud (unbeaten all three starts there now, winning all by wide margins) but there is a question about whether Kempton on what will almost certainly be less testing ground will see him to best effect. His current price doesn't leave a great deal to the imagination with those doubts in mind.
The main Irish raider looks set to be Noel Meade's Disko, who continued his progressive path when winning a Grade 2 at Down Royal on his return. He's already a dual Grade 1 winner and will be suited by the return to three miles, so could have even more to offer during his second season over fences, though he'd have to improve a chunk to trouble the principals in this race.
It's not hard to see why Might Bite is a short price here, but current odds of around 11/8 about a runner who has shown his quirks in the past aren't all that exciting. Of those in behind him it is his old rival Whisper who makes most each-way/place appeal at double-figure odds, having already shown improved form this season. Fox Norton looks the other horse most likely to trouble Might Bite, with the extra half-mile here expected to be within range.
Back Whisper to place in the King George VI Chase