The racing broadcaster previews the King George, reveals his picks for Kempton, Aintree and Sedgefield and provides his regular list of jockeys to watch.
After a real cracker of a Long Walk at Ascot on Saturday, the next stop is the best attended day of the racing calendar with the King George at its heart. The popularity of going racing on Boxing Day will be seen from Wincanton to Market Rasen and from Sedgefield to, for the very first time, Aintree – where the Formby Hurdle (formerly the Tolworth, and now named after the place rather than George!) provides more Grade 1 action.
KING GEORGE VI CHASE
Paul Nicholls’ charge has not quite been at his best in both runs this campaign, and at the start of the season the trainer’s thinking was that the King George would be his second rather than third run of the campaign. Even allowing for Kempton being more his track, the defeat to Royale Pagaille, whom he had beaten hollow in last year’s King George, seemed a below-par effort and also raised the possibility of the race leaving its mark.
Allaho reappeared after a long absence at Clonmel where he didn’t have to be at his best to beat Janadil and the demands of a King George will test his durability far more but, in terms of class, he has to be the selection. He has had 10 runs in Grade 1s winning four and placing in four more, with those four victories all coming in his last five runs at this level.
The appearance of Shishkin on what is his seasonal debut after his Ascot debacle is the opposite of Bravemansgame, in that his trainer Nicky Henderson would have expected to have had a rehearsal prior to the King George and indeed tried many different avenues to do so. Shishkin’s talent is there somewhere but it looks increasingly difficult to bring it to the surface.
Frodon may run well for a fair way and, with The Real Whacker, looks a likely pacesetter on ground that will suit. He may well outrun his odds under Bryony Frost who rides the track well (see Jockeys For Courses below) and, with the possibility of Shishkin not starting, there are worse each-way plays.
The Christmas Hurdle will finally allow the wrapping to be taken off Constitution Hill, whose prohibitive odds make it a race to watch rather than bet in.
Rubaud is likely to chase him home but Constitution Hill was head and shoulders above this division domestically last season and it will likely not be until he comes up against Impaire Et Passe and State Man that his dominance will be tested more fully. One just to enjoy.
KAUTO STAR NOVICES’ CHASE
The appearance of French runner Il Est Francais against Hermes Allen makes the Grade 1 Kauto Star a fascinating race but one that is very difficult to accurately price up. Il Est Francais has looked imperious in France but the depth of the form is very hard to assess. Hermes Allen put up a very competent display on his chasing debut, before which Paul Nicholls was keen to impress that the horse was short of peak fitness.
The return of a Gallic flavour to this race day is very welcome for those of us who remember Nupsala, The Fellow and Algan but it could be at Aintree where the better French opportunity lies in the aforementioned Formby Hurdle (see below).
ELSEWHERE AT KEMPTON
Idalko Bihoue sets a decent standard and Russian Ruler was certainly ridden with an eye to the future last time, but Es Perfecto’s absence means he has a mark of just 123. He has Point-to-Point experience and jumped fine at Cheltenham behind Ginny’s Destiny, who followed up next time, and it is worth remembering he chased home Bravemansgame, albeit at a respectful distance, in a Newbury novice hurdle in 2020.
At the end of the card (Kempton, 15:40) another fragile performer WILL CARVER 7/2 may, like Es Perfecto, finally begin to fulfil his potential. Injury has meant only two runs since June 2021 but he was very impressive at Taunton last time and, even though the handicapper has put him up 9lb, he is far less exposed than most of his rivals here.
ONE FOR AINTREE
JULY FLOWER had a couple of winning bumper runs in France before having one run for Henry De Bromhead in a bumper at Aintree at the Grand National Meeting. That looks disappointing on the face of it, but the race turned out to be one of the strongest lines of form of the entire season with no less than eight next-time winners.
Returned to her original trainer in France, she ran second in a Grade 1 at Auteuil last time out and the French start their hurdling careers earlier than their English counterparts, which should also be an advantage. In receipt of the fillies’ allowance and with a trainer that most will not have heard of, she could well go off a bigger price than she should (Aintree, 13:05).
STABLE TRACKER HORSE
IMPERIAL MEASURE was entered in five different races and this is the preferred option (Sedgefield, 12:15). He comes from a very strong form race at Exeter where five horses won next time out and another four made the frame.
That quartet included Imperial Measure who sat out the back in a race I called at Taunton that was won by Gyllen who was ridden far closer to the pace. Gyllen has subsequently won again off a much higher mark and Imperial Measure’s mark of 90 looks potentially very lenient. My personal Christmas finances will very much revolve around whether he wins or not!
JOCKEYS FOR COURSES
Two of our three on Saturday (Charlie Deutsch and Trevor Whelan) rode winners to continue our recent good run, so he’s our regular list of jockeys riding at tracks where they have good career records:
- Fontwell – Ben Godfrey (11/34 with an actual/expected ratio of 1.67)
- Kempton – Bryony Frost (15/64, A/E 1.58)
- Market Rasen – Fergus Gregory (18/59, A/E 1.63)
- Sedgefield – Emma Smith-Chaston (12/75, A/E 1.59)
- Wolverhampton – Jack Mitchell (146/809, A/E 1.17)
BOXING DAY SELECTIONS:
IMPERIAL MEASURE (Sedgefield, 12:15)
JULY FLOWER (Aintree, 13:05)
ALLAHO 13/8 (Kempton, 14:30)
WILL CARVER 7/2 (Kempton, 15:40)