DON'T let anyone tell you this a poor King George just because there are only five runners. This is one of the most eagerly-awaited clashes since the days of Denman v Kauto Star and although there is no Irish representation, I am struggling to think of a more intriguing clash outside of the Cheltenham Festival for some time.
It was so tempting to try and squeeze the value out of one of the bigger-priced horses but, in truth, I’ve long thought THISTLECRACK would win this race if he were to turn up and there is little point trying to talk myself put of that view now.
He is still to universally convince he’s the real deal over fences but the case against the horse has been built on reasonably flimsy evidence. One mistake and one scrappy jump in an otherwise decent round of jumping at Cheltenham are the two notable blips on an otherwise pretty faultless chasing career. Those mistakes didn’t seem to take anything out of him at all and he was able to come straight back on the bridle and power away from his rivals.
Admittedly, those were vastly inferior rivals to those he faces here but we know he is a horse of truly outstanding ability and I was surprised his World Hurdle victory wasn’t rated higher than it was given he was value for about as many lengths as you care to put on that result. He is without question the best staying hurdler I’ve ever seen and that includes the likes of Big Buck’s and Baracouda. The point is he is in possession of that priceless combination of assets: bottomless stamina and an almost frighteningly high cruising speed for a three miler.
Few people have talked about the impact of the ground but I actually think nowadays it is likely to count heavily against Thistlecrack’s stablemate and big rival, Cue Card, if it turns into a test of basic speed, and there isn’t going to be much rain falling at Kempton over the weekend. In addition, Cue Card has failed to win six out of the seven times he has raced right-handed. That might seem a perverse statement given he won this race 12 months ago, beating a classy animal like Vautour, but there is no way that rival was anywhere near his best that day and Cue Card might well have been beaten by Don Cossack had that rival stood up.
Fundamentally, right now, I just think Thistlecrack is the better, faster and more freakishly brilliant animal.
My Oddshecker column is longer than normal this week but I really think this is a race to savour and all five protagonists are thoroughly deserving of a positive mention.
It’s not difficult to construct persuasive cases for each of the other runners in the race, primarily because all three are at their best around Kempton. Silviniaco Conti is a dual winner of this race so deserves utmost respect but you would have to think this will turn into too much of a test of speed.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see either or both of Josses Hill or Tea For Two running big races given they are both on the upgrade. I’ve always had a soft spot for the former who may well excel over this distance but it’s hard to tip a horse in a race like this who hasn’t even run, let alone won, over three miles.
As for Tea For Two, if you took his Lanzarote Hurdle and Feltham wins in isolation, you would have to think he is a very dangerous rival. For whatever reason, he has looked absolutely brilliant in those big Kempton races and could easily be the joker in the pack here given it’s hard to get a firm handle on exactly what he might be capable of. He could give Lizzie Kelly the thrill of her career.
The Christmas Hurdle (2.40) might not be all plain sailing for short-priced favourite Yanworth and I think this could be the day to back the same owners’ MY TENT OR YOURS, and you can pick yourself up off the floor, I really did just say that. Crucially, it’s the first time this season he’s had his conditions, in a race he’s won before. I thought his effort in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham was hugely encouraging given he pulled clear with The New One, who had the run of the race and whose record fresh is outstanding. Conditions today can bring the pair closer together and My Tent Or Yours looks the better bet at the prices.
I’m pleased connections have decided to campaign Yanworth as a Champion Hurdle prospect but I’m not sure he will be seen to best effect in what could be a tactical affair. There is no reason to think Ch’tibello will be any less effective on this better ground than when beating My Tent Or Yours at Haydock but we know the selection will be a different proposition under these conditions.
I can see Nicky Henderson winning the novices’ handicap chase (1.30) with GOLD PRESENT. This horse clearly had problems last year but looked firmly back on track when winning at Doncaster and the trainer could hardly have been more confident beforehand. Obviously this is a more competitive race and it’s easy to make a case for a several of his rivals but the selection impressed me last time and his stable won this race last year with the mercurial Full Shift. Of the others, Two Taffs remains a horse of potential and Poker School was an impressive winner at Ascot last weekend but, as we couldn’t see most of that race, it’s dangerous to draw too may conclusions.
The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (2.05) looks a wide open heat but a horse who should go well at a price is AMORE ALATO. He has something to find on the figures but his jumping was a joy to behold at Sandown and we know he’s effective at this track.