The first three home in last year’s King George V1 Chase are prominent in the betting for this year’s renewal. Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card will have their backers but Al Ferof could reverse the form of the 2013 race. Before Fingal Bay disappointed in the Hennessey Philip Hobbs’s horses could do no wrong and Menorah has the form to be placed. If fit to run Simonsig would be an interesting contender for Nicky Henderson
The King George is the mid-season championship for staying chasers. It is run over three miles at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. It is a grade 1 race open to four year olds and older. There are 18 fences to be jumped in a race first run in 1937. There was no King George during the Second World War but the second most prestigious chase in England after the Cheltenham Gold Cup has been run since 1947 though has been lost to the weather four times since then.
The race is a trial for the Gold Cup even though Cheltenham and Kempton are totally different types of tracks. Kempton is right handed and flat while the home of the festival is left handed and undulating. Since 2000 four horses have won both races at least once and 10 King George winners have also won the Blue Riband of chasing. The Betfair Chase at Haydock is the other major championship race for seasoned chasers. No horse has won all three races in the same season
The records of the race for jockeys, trainers and owners are centred on Kauto Star who won an unprecedented five King George’s. That horse was mainly ridden by Ruby Walsh and trained by Paul Nicholls and that pair are the leading jockey and trainer. Walsh has only won the race on Kauto Star but Nicholls also had See More Business and Silviniaco Conti in his care when they won the Boxing Day feature.
Southern Hero was 12 when winning the first race in 1937 and still remains the oldest winner. Only seven other horses have won the race aged 10 or older and the last two winners have been seven year olds. Only one horse aged 5 has won the King George but Kauto Star and Long Run won the race aged six and are both multiple winners. The race has a tradition of producing repeat winners and 13 horses have won it more than once including the nine most recent winners before last year’s race.
Al Ferof was 14 and 11 lengths behind Silviniaco and Cue Card last year but significantly lost no ground on that pair from after the last fence. The horse is a Cheltenham Festival winner and won the Paddy Power Chase in 2012. He was disappointing last season but was never totally healthy and fit and a recent run at Ascot was very impressive. Al Ferof could well be the fourth different horse Nicholls has trained to win the King George and barring injuries he will be ridden by Walsh.
After the 2012 Paddy Power race Nicholls said the King George was Al Ferof’s target. That win at Cheltenham indicated to the trainer that his horse would stay and Nicholls believed the King George would suit Al Ferof. He raced mainly over two miles as a novice but clearly gets further and the flat track at Kempton should suit so Al Ferof is tipped to win this year’s King George. The horse was found to have ulcers throughout last season and at the highest level even a minor ailment can be a factor.
Silviniaco Conti would maintain the trend for multiple winners if finishing first at Kempton on Boxing Day. He looked back to his best when winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock after a disappointing seasonal reappearance at Wetherby. Silviniaco Conti was leading in the Gold Cup in March jumping the final fence but swerved on the run-in and was outstayed by Lord Windermere in a very strange race.
Cue Card was injured and could not run in the Gold Cup but in winning the 2013 Betfair Chase had proven to be a leading contender. He was beaten carrying a handicapping weight at Exeter but ran below his best at Haydock last month. The dual festival winner looked certain to win last year’s King George but the way he weakened between the last two fences is a concern in the context of this year’s race.
Simonsig missed the whole of last season and still might not be ready to run in the King George. The horse won the Arkle Chase at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival over two miles. However, Simonsig won over two miles five furlongs in the stayer’s novice hurdle at the previous year’s festival and has winning point-to-point form in Ireland over three miles. The horse has a great record at Cheltenham and may find Kempton too sharp and other horses are preferred.
Menorah is another former grade 1 winner although over hurdles and represents the combination of Hobbs and Richard Johnson. The jockey has been second in the rider’s championship 15 times to Tony McCoy and in any other era would be seen as a true champion. He may never win the title but gains compensation from winning the major races but a place on Menorah could be the best to expect as Al Ferof can win the King George for Walsh and Nicholls.