Twelve months ago Boylesports were offering ‘non-runner no-bet’ on the King George from the start of December. It was safe territory for them and on Boxing Day the horse which had been trading as favourite throughout, Silviniaco Conti, prevailed at odds of 15/8.
His chief rival dating back over four years to their novice chasing days, Cue Card, finished unplaced that day at odds of 11/2. 12 months beforehand Silviniaco Conti had won his first King George with Cue Card, looking all over the winner with two fences to jump, finishing second.
On Saturday the pair will meet again but this time the bookmakers believe it is Cue Card that will finish ahead of his old adversary as he is trading at 4/1 and Silviniaco Conti at around 10/1.
Cue Card has looked a rejuvenated horse this season, he appeared imperious in winning both his starts – the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and the Betfair Chase at Haydock – accounting for Silviniaco Conti by seven lengths in the latter contest.
This is a horse which has always had a fine engine and he came to prominence when winning the Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2010. But he has also been known to fold up after appearing to be hacking along.
That trait has been missing this season and if an operation on his trapped epiglottis (commonly known as a ‘wind op’) has fixed this frailty then he has every right to endorse his recent superiority over Silviniaco Conti and confirm himself as the best chaser in the British Isles.
But Boylesports were not offering an early ‘non-runner no-bet’ concession this year …and for good reason. The 2015 William Hill sponsored King George looks a mighty competitive affair with a very strong Irish contingent hoping to return the trophy to Ireland for the first time since 2005, when Kicking King was successful.
Don Cossack has been backed down from 4/1 into 9/4 in recent weeks as his participation looked more and more likely. The Gordon Elliott trained horse has won eight of his last nine races four of which were Grade 1 contests.
Two bloodless wins against inferior opposition at Punchestown and Down Royal this autumn have proved little apart from him being sound and in good heart, that’s something that could not be said about Silviniaco Conti.
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins has only won the King George once, in 2001 with Florida Pearl. But he could field his best contender since then with last season’s uber-impressive JLT Novice Chase winner Vautour.
The six-year-old French-bred has very few miles on the clock – seven hurdle races produced five wins and he is four-from-five over the larger obstacles – and he struggled to win on his seasonal bow at Ascot when in receipt of five pound from a rival (Ptit Zig). Nevertheless the visual impression of his Cheltenham Festival win remains indelible and he is a fascinating contender.
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Beyond this ‘big four’ it is 10/1 Smad Place, who has 17lb to find with top-rated Silviniaco Conti on official figures and 20/1 Al Ferof.
At that price the ten-year-old Al Ferof, winner of the 2011 Supreme Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, could be considered each-way value having won Huntingdon’s Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at the start of December on his first start for up-and-coming trainer Harry Skelton.
2pts win - Don Cossack, 9/4 Betfair Sportsbook
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