Kevin Blake

Big Race Verdict: Kevin Blake's taking a 10/1 whack at the King George

Betfair ambassador Kevin Blake
Kevin Blake brings us his King George VI Chase Big Race Verdict

After a short break, Kevin Blake returns with his Big Race Verdict, and this week he's looking at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day...

Paul Nicholls Superboost

It's 1/31.33 that Paul Nicholls wins either the 13:20 at Kempton today with Hermes Allen or the King George at 14:30 with Bravemansgame, but the Betfair Sportsbook have kindly super-boosted that price to Evens (1/12.00).

To take advantage of this Paul Nicholls superboost just click on the 'Bet now' tab below.

Back Hermes Allen (13:20) or Bravemansgame (14:30) to Win @ 1/12.00

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The King George VI Chase at Kempton is one of the most prestigious and historic staying chases in the entire British and Irish National Hunt racing calendars. It has been the stage for any number of epic moments over the decades and the latest instalment will take place this Tuesday.

Now, it has to be said that this doesn't have the look of the most mouth-watering King George VI Chase we've ever seen, but it does bring together a fascinating mix of contenders that have key questions to answer on the day.

Strong pace likely but they won't give Allaho an easy lead

Before getting into the chances of the individual runners, it is worth looking at the likely pace of the race. From first glance, it is clear that there is a lot of potential pace on paper.

Allaho has been a habitual front runner for a few seasons now, including when winning the Punchestown Gold Cup over this trip in April 2022. Frodon is a habitual pace pusher that made much of the running in the last three renewals of this race. The Real Whacker has been a habitual front runner over fences. Hewick likes to race at least prominently and can make the running.

The early stages of the race will be interesting, as while the pace map might suggest a strong pace is likely, it doesn't always play out like that. As has been mentioned a few times in this space this season, everyone involved including the participants are all looking at the same set of evidence and those involved will be wary of getting hooked up in a self-defeating pace duel.

However, in this scenario where the favourite Allaho is one of the potential pace pushers, his rivals are likely to be reluctant to let him get his own way in front.

Allaho seems likely to set out to get the lead to himself, but we have seen in the past that Bryony Frost's tactic with Frodon is to line up wide and gradually make her way across to try and take the lead. With Allaho tending to jump to his left, this scenario could make for a very competitive and potentially dramatic first couple of fences in the King George.

It will also be interesting to see if other potential pace pushers such as The Real Whacker or Hewick will look to initially follow Allaho and potentially slip through on his inside if he starts to jump left as he often has in the past.

All told, it promises to be a fascinating race in the very early stages and an above-average pace does seem likely.

Tendency to jump left a concern for favourite

Now, onto the individual runners. Willie Mullins' decision to aim Allaho at the race is particularly exciting.

Considering just how impressive Allaho has been in the last two runnings of the Ryanair Chase and most notably the Punchestown Gold Cup in April 2022, it seemed almost a waste for such a talented performer to be aimed at mid-range trips as had been suggested earlier this season.

There seems to have been at least a temporary change of direction and that will see him pointed at the intriguing prospect of him contesting this race. However, is it the right call?

Allaho missed all of the 2022/23 season due to bleed on the spleen. Now almost 10 years of age, there would always be a natural question of whether his ability remains intact.

Many were satisfied with his winning return in the Clonmel Oil Chase, but that was a particularly uncompetitive race that was run in a laggard time. As well as that, it saw Allaho show a renewed tendency to jump to his left. This has been a feature of his jumping for much of his career to one extent or another, but it had become less pronounced when we had last seen him in the 2021/22 season.

It is easy to get away with such inefficiencies in the shallow, stagnant waters that he was swimming in at Clonmel, but he wouldn't want to repeat it amongst this greater depth of competition.

Mind, his opposition have more than their share of questions to answer too.

Defending champ needs to bounce back

The Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame finished last season as the highest-rated staying chaser in Britain, but two defeats this season have put him on the backfoot, particularly the latest one in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Nicholls discussed those defeats in detail when I spoke to him for Betfair a couple of weeks ago (see below video). He took them more in his stride than might have been expected, but he'll need to bounce back and produce a better effort if he is to retain his title.

It will be interesting to see how they ride him, as Charlie Deutsch did a good job of drawing Bravemansgame into a slog from a long way out at Haydock which didn't play to his strengths. Riding Bravemansgame with more restraint is an option, but whether they will want to take back such a naturally brilliant jumper is a question they'll have to consider.

Shishkin has more questions to answer

As for Shishkin, who knows? I have learned to be cautious of writing off Nicky Henderson-trained horses that seem to be physically or mentally going the wrong way.

His ultra-cautious and careful approach to training and campaigning is a regular source of frustration to outside observers, but it comes into its own with horses that are starting to creak and need minding. Sprinter Sacre and Altior are examples that spring to mind.

However, he has been at work with Shishkin for the better part of two years now, conjuring two Grade 1 wins from him last season in amongst some concerning efforts that raised questions of his appetite for the game.

The application of first-time cheekpieces for his return at Ascot was a hint that Shishkin may have been lacking enthusiasm at home, but what transpired most likely exceeded even the most pessimistic fears for him as he refused to race.

Henderson will no doubt have thrown every trick that he has at Shishkin over the last few weeks, but even if he can rekindle some of his waning enthusiasm, Shishkin's long-standing tendency to jump to his left won't help him in this race.

He just about got away with it when getting the better of Energumene in their epic clash at Ascot in January 2022, but it contributed to his subsequent defeat at Sandown and would be a deep concern in this depth of race.

Whacker looks sure to come on for seasonal debut

Of those with questions to answer, the most interesting one at the prices is the Pat Neville-trained The Real Whacker.

The seven-year-old didn't get the credit he deserved for his unbeaten novice chase campaign last season that culminated with him winning the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He got the better of Gerri Colombe by a short-head in that contest and the widespread view was that he was a fortunate winner. However, I didn't read it that way. For me, The Real Whacker had the race wrapped up for early in the straight and got idle on the run-in and picked up again when catching sight of Gerri Colombe in the dying strides. Indeed, he had been notably idle in front in each of his two previous wins over fences at Cheltenham.

The Real Whacker was set a stiff task on his return to action off top weight in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham, but even considering that he was disappointing. However, it was a run that is forgivable as he was reportedly struck into and his trainer's horses weren't firing at the time.

His trainer had a winner the other day which is no harm at all and he seems sure to come on from that run.

Another point to note is that this will be The Real Whacker's first opportunity to run at a right-handed track over fences and this might well suit him as he has shown a tendency to jump a bit to his right in the past.

It will be fascinating to see what way Sam Twiston-Davies wants to play it on a horse that is a particularly good jumper and natural forward-goer. If it were me, I'd be very keen to jump off on the inside of Allaho and, if that isn't possible, follow him closely. If Allaho starts to jump to his left, The Real Whacker will want to be well positioned to capitalise by seizing the rail.

The Real Whacker looks the one for me at the prices.

Back The Real Whacker to Win the King George (Tuesday, 14:30 Kempton) @ 10/111.00

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Check out Tony Calvin's Boxing Day tips here.

Racing... Only Bettor. Watch our Boxing Day preview here.

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