King George VI Preview: Don can be crowned Kempton king

Don Cossack is current favourite for Saturday's King George VI
Don Cossack is current favourite for Saturday's King George VI

Timeform's Ben Fearnley previews the King George, the highlight of Boxing Day at Kempton Park, and recommends a bet...

"A more pressing concern than that from a betting perspective is his vicinity to Don Cossack in the market, which is as much about potential – and the reputation of his trainer – than anything"

With the majority of the big chases so far this jumps season, the recurring theme has been a feeling of what might have been. The lucrative prospect of the Jumps Triple Crown did little to attract all but the usual suspects for the Betfair Chase, Coneygree was denied his chance to put up a Denman-esque performance in the Hennessy, and the tantalising clash between the exciting Un de Sceaux and the rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre failed to materialise in the Tingle Creek.

That's not to say it hasn't been an intriguing start to this season, with the old guard - the likes of Cue Card, Smad Place, and Sire de Grugy - providing us with plenty of National Hunt nostalgia, but in terms of what this season promised beforehand, especially in the staying chaser division, Saturday's King George is almost under pressure to deliver.

And deliver it should. After the unfortunate emission of the current holder, four horses are now currently vying for favouritism for a potentially-epic renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and two of them look set to clash at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Timeform's top staying chaser of last season, Don Cossack, is the first of that pair, and he unsurprisingly sets the standard on Timeform Ratings coming into the King George. Don Cossack came of age last season, winning six times, and shaping much better than the result during his only defeat, which came when he was badly hampered approaching the second last in the Ryanair at the Festival. Don Cossack didn't let that mishap tarnish his spring campaign, however, and he was back, better than ever, when demolishing the field in the Melling Chase at Aintree, putting some 26 lengths between himself and the re-opposing Cue Card back in second.

Don Cossack then went on to comprehensively beat the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2-3, Djakadam and Road To Riches, in the Punchestown equivalent, and in doing so cemented his place as the one to beat in the division coming into this season. A couple of straightforward victories in Ireland so far this term will have set him up nicely for this race, and he should continue to take all the beating as he bids to win a sixth Grade 1.

Current joint-favourite for the Gold Cup, and narrowly second-favourite behind Don Cossack for this race is Vautour, who probably put up the most taking performance of last season's Cheltenham Festival when sauntering to victory in the JLT, looking all over a top class chaser on just his fourth start over the larger obstacles. Naturally, Vautour was quickly installed prominently in the betting for the top chasing prizes, including the Gold Cup, with his pedigree suggesting that trips of three miles and above would be within his grasp.

He was entitled to need his much-anticipated first run of this season, which came at Ascot in November, and he did well to repel a race-fit Ptit Zig on the day. While Vautour's reappearance was perfectly satisfactory, he was tackling a right-handed course for the first time, and his tendency to jump out to his left flagged up a minor concern for this race, where he is likely to have more competition for the lead and have his jumping put under more pressure. However, a more pressing concern than that from a betting perspective is his vicinity to Don Cossack in the market, which is as much about potential - and the reputation of his trainer - than anything, and although Vautour very much possesses the scope to improve to Don Cossack's level, his current price assumes that he is already there.

This is no two horse race, though, and Cue Card, who has completed a quite-incredible resurgence to return to the level of his 2012/13 season, cannot be easily discounted, probably arriving here in better form than when finishing second behind Silviniaco Conti in the 2013 renewal. Cue Card was well beaten by Don Cossack on more than one occasion last season, but he looks set to get much closer this time, with his physical issues evidently now a thing of the past.

Cue Card's victory in the Betfair Chase is close to the level that Don Cossack achieved at his best last season, but the likelihood is that he will be required to pull out more than he has ever done to get the better of the two younger Irish raiders, and whether or not a career-best performance is in him at this stage in his career, remains to be seen.

Of the others, it is impossible not to give Silviniaco Conti a mention as he bids for his third consecutive win in the race, but he was ultimately a little underwhelming in the Betfair behind Cue Card last time, considering that he had his optimum conditions and the advantage of a prep run, and there is no obvious reason to think that he could reverse those placings. Hennessy winner Smad Place adds further substance to the race, but it is worth remembering that that impressive win at Newbury did come off a handicap mark of 155, and much more will be required for him to follow up here.

The King George is set to belatedly deliver the first big clash of this season over fences, and the result is sure to have a lasting impact on the Gold Cup market. The race is truly one to savour, but from a betting perspective, the lofty reputation of Vautour makes the market for a bet on the standard-setting Don Cossack. He looks set to continue at the top of the staying tree this Christmas, and may prove a bridge too far for the resurgent Cue Card.


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