TRAINER Paul Nicholls tightened his stranglehold on the William Hill King George VI Chase when heavily-backed 15-8 favourite Silviniaco Conti produced a jumping masterclass to provide him with a record ninth success in the Boxing Day feature at Kempton.
Following up his success in the 2013 renewal, Noel Fehily’s sure-footed mount made every yard of the running to score by four and a half lengths and five from Dynaste and stablemate Al Ferof.
Nicholls and Fehily pulled off a carefully constructed plan to make best use of their charge’s assured stamina and improved concentration gained from the application of a pair of cheekpieces.
The eight-year-old was cut into 5-2 favourite (from 6-1) for the Cheltenham Gold Cup by Ladbrokes, while Hills make the Ditcheat gelding 4-1 market leader (from 7-1), a price shared by Paddy Power about a race in which he finished fourth last year.
To rapturous applause, the combination never looked like being reeled in, as Dynaste stayed on strongly for second. Nicholls said: “It’s all a bit surreal. Things weren’t going well [on the day], but Conti got us out of trouble. He jumps and he gallops and we kept it simple. I knew he would gallop and stay and we decided to make it a proper test of stamina. The cheekpieces have helped him, he can be a bit lazy and they have really woken him up.”
Nicholls compared Silvianaco Conti to one of his previous King George victors, See More Business. He said: “See More Business won the King George twice and went on to win a Gold Cup and I hope this fellow can go on and put the big one on his CV.
“When he jumped the last in front I was astounded he didn’t go on and win last season’s Gold Cup, but then after he ran at Aintree we found he had gastric ulcers. In fact there were various things we had to iron out and put right last year and the result is that he’s come back a stronger and better horse.
“I felt he needed the cheekpieces to help him concentrate and they have made a huge difference. Today he jumped soundly and only got tight to the one down the far side. Otherwise he was foot-perfect. All he needed was one kick in the belly from Noel and he was away. Whether he runs again before Cheltenham is very much undecided, but all he does is stay and the Gold Cup is his number one target.
“Longer term I would love to see him come back here and give us the magic ten King George wins. I can’t believe how lucky we’ve been to do so well in this race and I have to again give credit to my head lad Clifford Baker.”
David Pipe was delighted with Dynaste but is undecided whether to aim the grey at the Gold Cup. The Pond House trainer said: “It was encouraging to see him finish his race strongly, but we’ll have to take him home and see about the Gold Cup. To be honest, I’d rather win the Ryanair than finish third in the Gold Cup.”
Champagne Fever and Cue Card both appeared to fizzle out through lack of stamina, while the Philip Hobbs duo of Menorah and Wishfull Thinking disappointed, with Menorah making a race-ending mistake on the far side.
Earlier, Faugheen ran out a hugely impressive winner of the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle to strengthen his grip on the Champion Hurdle market.
Willie Mullins sent the six-year-old over for the Grade One admitting he was surprised at the progress his charge had made in the last 12 months.
Ruby Walsh was happy to track the pacesetting Blue Heron on a course that many thought could be too sharp for him, having won over three miles in heavy ground this time last year. But Walsh never looked troubled at any stage and turning into the straight he gave his mount an inch of rein and he shot clear. The 4-11 favourite made a minor mistake at the last but it did not halt his momentum and he crossed the line eight lengths clear of Purple Bay. Nicholls’ Fighting Fifth winner Irving was pulled up.
At Wetherby, Dolatulo booked his ticket for the Grand National with a solid win in the William Hill Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase.
Eighth over the National fences last time out, trainer Warren Greatrex had stated that his intention was to get him qualified for the big race by getting him placed over three miles. His seven-year-old did better than that, though, and Dougie Costello guided the 14-1 winner home with two and a quarter lengths in hand over Cape Tribulation, with Corrin Wood staying on for third.