This is the smallest field I can remember for a King George VI Chase in a long time – and it can play into Thistlecrack’s hands. Last year’s World Hurdle winner is looking to become the first novice to win this contest and with so few runners, it should make his life that little bit easier.
He is relatively inexperienced with just three runs – but three wins – over fences. However, he’ll get a clear sight at the Kempton fences against so few runners – rather than having eight or 10 rivals to contend with at every obstacle.
Don’t get me wrong, winning a King George VI Chase will be no gimme and he’ll have to be on his game to beat tried-and-tested stablemate, and reigning King George VI Chase champ, Cue Card to do it.
However, Thistlecrack can overcome his inexperience and the small field may be more of an advantage to Tom Scudamore this time, than Cue Card’s battle-hardened experience is to Paddy Brennan.
Cue Card is probably 20lbs better than any other horse Thistlecrack has faced – even when he was destroying the opposition last year over hurdles before running away with the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Those rivals were rated in the 150s or so, but Cue Card has beaten horses rated in the high 160’s or early 170’s all the time.
It’s a big step up for Thistlecrack – the likely tempo of the race and the quality of this King George field is his biggest test yet over fences.
But I think he’ll prove up to it and if I had the choice I’d ride Thistlecrack in the Boxing Day feature.
The Christmas Hurdle on the same day has another small, but very select field. Vroum Vroum Mag has a final piece of work to do beforeWillie Mullins makes a decision (not declared to run at final declarations on Friday) on whether she’ll travel across the Irish Sea and she seems in good form at home.
She suffered her first defeat for us when chinned by Apple’s Jade in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle over 2m 4f at Fairyhouse earlier this month. However, I’d have no qualms about her dropping back to 2m at Kempton as she’s a very versatile mare.
She should improve for her seasonal debut but so will the likes of Ascot winner Yanworth and possibly The New One – although he’s usually pretty straight first time out and proved that when winning at Cheltenham last time.
The ratings give Vroum Vroum Mag a very good chance and she’ll be getting 7lbs off the boys. She’s a Grade 1 winner over 2m at Punchestown (beating Identity Thief and My Tent or Yours) and would be a strong contender if she takes her chance.