FIVE-times King George VI Chase winner Kauto Star will be roared along the home straight at Kempton again this afternoon. This time, however, the old boy – for whom a career in dressage lies ahead – will only be there on parade, and, now that he has retired from the racecourse, it is time to find a new king to wear his crown.
Long Run will justifiably be the favourite, and he has won the big race before – when it was delayed by the weather in 2010 and re-run mid-January 2011 – beating his stablemate Riverside Theatre, who again turns up with a big chance today. But, while Long Run is going to be a tough nut to crack, perhaps The Giant Bolster is the one to be on as a solid each-way prospect in an open-looking renewal.
Trainer David Bridgwater is brimming with confidence and the booking of Tony McCoy will not have dented that.
“He’s flying, in tip-top condition,” said Bridgwater of his runner. “I’m getting very excited about the race.”
McCoy rides as regular pilot Tom Scudamore is claimed for Grands Crus and his appointment is likely to see Bridgwater’s Gold Cup runner-up popular on the day. Many have been quick to put his run at Cheltenham down to it being a poor renewal of the blue riband – but that would be unfair as he is a progressive individual.
In fact, he confirmed he belongs at the top table when third in the Betfair Chase on his return to action and, while he needs to turn form round from there with Long Run, he was in front of Nicky Henderson’s horse at Cheltenham. He is just as entitled to improve for that effort as Long Run – Bridgwater says he has “come on a bundle” – and his odds do not reflect his chance.
Still only a seven-year-old, McCoy could be the perfect partner for him.
Cue Card is respected in an intriguing field, but the feeling is he might just have too much speed to see three miles out on this sort of ground.
Henderson is also sending out all the right signals about Long Run. “Everything has gone right. Haydock went much better this year than it did last year, probably thanks to no Kauto Star to thump him,” Henderson said. “OK, we got beaten, but he ran well and was probably straighter and didn’t get quite as hard a race. He improved dramatically from last year’s Haydock race to the King George. We only got beaten less then two lengths by Kauto instead of eight. We’d expect to find that improvement and I’d be hopeful that the ground is the one thing that can play to his strengths. Everything has gone well, the schooling has gone well and his work has been great.”
Kauto Stone, a half-brother to Kauto Star, takes his chance for champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
He showed three miles held no fears when striking at the first attempt in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, putting behind him a poor second half to last season.
A stellar undercard to the main event is headlined by the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle, where the nap goes to Countrywide Flame. John Quinn’s charge is one of the most improved animals in training, going on from winning the Triumph hurdle to make his presence felt on the Flat this year, finishing second in the Cesarewitch.
He took that improvement forward to the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, where there was so much to like about his defeat of Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Cinders And Ashes.
The pair clash again but, with similar ground in prospect, it is hard to see why the form should not be upheld.
Everything Dynaste has done so far since switching to fences suggests he will be hard to beat in the Kauto Star Feltham Novices’ Chase. Very smart as a staying hurdler, his transition to the bigger obstacles has been smooth and he has jumped like an old hand. His form has worked out nicely, too, with his latest victim Court In Motion coming out to win a Grade Two at Lingfield.
The Pipes know what is required for this Grade One event and David Pipe struck 12 months ago with Grands Crus.
Helpston is the pick in the Betfair-sponsored Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby.
This race has lost a fair bit of lustre over the years but remains worth winning and Pam Sly’s eight-year-old was beaten less than a length in second last year by According To Pete. Four runs since have seen mixed fortunes as he has only got round once, when winning at Newcastle in February, but he was still going well enough when falling at Doncaster earlier this month to lend weight to the feeling his time is near.
Guaranteed testing ground will not be a problem, either.
Pass The Time gets the nod in the Betfred-sponsored Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at Fontwell, while Borders National hero Mortimers Cross deserves another go in the Professional Security Management Handicap Chase at Ffos Las.
Deise Dynamo should also be kept on-side for the Jardines Catering Novices’ Hurdle at Sedgefield, with the Pipe-trained Qalinas expected to likewise do the business in the Garthwest Beginners’ Chase at Market Rasen.
Over at Towcester, Monty’s Revenge should be up to the task in the Bet totequadpot Text Tote to 89660 Handicap Chase.
Holywell is taken to end a frustrating run with victory in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Wincanton.
The all-weather action comes from Wolverhampton, where Jeer looks to be coming to hand nicely for the Boxing Day Handicap.