Racing: Silviniaco heads King George betting

Silvianaco Conti is the favourite to retain the King George VI on Boxing Day. Picture: Scott Heavey/Getty

Silvianaco Conti is the favourite to retain the King George VI on Boxing Day. Picture: Scott Heavey/Getty

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A TOP-CLASS field of ten has been declared for the William Hill King George VI Chase, the highight of a brilliant Boxing Day card at Kempton.

Silviniaco Conti is the best-backed horse with the sponsors and is 5-2 favourite to retain the title he won a year ago. Trainer Paul Nicholls has the best record of any trainer in the King George with eight wins and is also represented this year by Al Ferof, a contender at 6-1. Nick Scholfield partners Nicholls’ third runner, outsider Wonderful Charm.

William Hill spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: “It often pays to back the favourite in the King George and, unless there is a mammoth gamble, it looks like Silviniaco Conti will head the market on Boxing Day.”

Cue Card is the horse with momentum in the betting market. Colin Tizzard hasn’t held back on his confidence in the horse and, after two below-par runs from the Jean Bishop-owned gelding, punters feel there is value in last year’s runner-up, who is priced at 7-1.

However, jockey Noel Fehily is in confident mood as Silviniaco Conti prepares to defend his crown. Although he ran below expectations on his seasonal reappearance in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, Silviniaco Conti bounced back to win his second Betfair Chase at Haydock last month and Fehily believes his big-race mount is at the top of his game.

“It was a very good performance in the Betfair and if he reproduces something like that, hopefully he goes there with a big chance,” the jockey said.

“I wasn’t disappointed with his run at Wetherby at all, the ground was a lot quicker than everyone said it was. He felt great and jumped great, the two-and-a-half-mile horses just came by him very quickly and he got a bit tired.

“He soon put that behind him and it was probably nearly his career-best performance at Haydock.”

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It is nine years since the Irish last claimed King George glory with Tom Taaffe’s dual winner Kicking King. This time, Champagne Fever carries the hopes of a nation. A former winner of the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the seven-year-old came within a whisker of completing a Cheltenham Festival hat-trick in last season’s Arkle Trophy.

He made a sparkling reappearance in the Clonmel Oil Chase over two and a half miles and trainer Willie Mullins, who won the King George with the popular Florida Pearl in 2001, is confident a step up to three miles will not be a problem for his bold-jumping and strong-travelling grey.

“Everything suggests he wants three miles-plus.

“Last year we took a chance two-mile chasing as he’d won the Supreme Novices’ and he won all bar a quarter of an inch at Cheltenham, but that’s the reality,” said Mullins.

Philip Hobbs has had an outstanding campaign and is doubly represented with Menorah and Wishfull Thinking.

Mullins also thinks Faugheen has made “extraordinary” progress ahead of his latest big-race assignment in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle.

Mullins said: “He’s surprised me that he’s as good as he is. His point form was nothing special. I think he won his point-to-point in May and I’m not sure he has a pedigree that he’d be a Champion Hurdle favourite, so it’s a huge leap. It’s extraordinary the progress he has made.”

Faugheen’s Kempton opponents include the Nicholls-trained Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner Irving and Nicky Henderson’s Sign Of A Victory.

There are nine fixtures scheduled on Boxing Day and Broadway Buffalo is the 5-2 favourite for the William Hill Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby.

Second-favourite at 6-1 is Malcolm Jefferson’s Cape Tribulation, who won the race in 2012.

Trainer Sue Smith is bidding for more success in the £40,000 contest after last year’s triumph with Cloudy Too. This year her hopes lie with Vintage Star.

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