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Mick Fitzgerald: My head says Cue Card in the King George but this 5/2 shot can Fly in earlier

The King George is a crown jewel in the NH season and every jumps fan should savour the Boxing Day showdown between Colin Tizzard’s stablemates.

Thistlecrack has the potential to make me look silly, but I’m siding with reigning champ Cue Card in Monday’s King George VI Chase at Kempton 3.15pm.

When I first heard that Colin Tizzard’s reigning World Hurdle champ was going for the King George I wasn’t so sure it was the right decision. This is his novice season and the Kauto Star Novices Chase on the same card looked a better fit.

However, the more I look at it, especially with Coneygree absent, the race lacks a confirmed front-runner who is a guaranteed to stay.

Thistlecrack should be able to settle into a nice rhythm and any pressure on his jumping, should still be well within his comfort zone. There’s always a worry about how the novices will handle the pace and hustle & bustle of a King George. However, with such a small field, Thistlecrack shouldn’t find himself getting unsighted at any of the fences.

He’ll be able to bowl along, but ultimately that could set the race up for his stable-mate Cue Card who will be just waiting to pounce.

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Nicky Henderson’s Josses Hill looked good when winning the Peterborough Chase over 2m 4f. However, he’s stepping up to 3m for the first time and had the run of the race at Huntingdon. While Kempton (where he’s won twice and been second twice) is a flat track that puts an emphasis on speed like Huntingdon – a Grade One King George VI Chase is a totally different ball game.

Cue Card has been there, done that and battled his heart out to deny Vautour at the death in last season’s thrilling encounter. He can retain his King George crown on Monday.

Christmas Hurdle

Yanworth has Champion Hurdle aspirations so Alan King’s runner really needs to win the Christmas Hurdle (2.40pm) to boost his claims. Especially since Vroum Vroum Mag is now absent.

He never really got the run of the race when second to Yorkhill at Cheltenham last season and it took him a long time to go past Lil Rockerfeller at Ascot first time up this term. He should have improved from that outing and hopefully can stamp his authority on this a bit more to become a credible Champion Hurdle contender.

Nicky Henderson won the opener at Kempton last year with Altior and Jenkins (12.55pm) is a similar type.

I really like the way he finishes his races and I don’t care who you are – I’ll take a finisher over a strong traveller any day of the week. You’ve got options with them. You can step them up in trip and if the ground turns testing and you need that little bit extra, you know you’ll get it.

Only seven runners line up for the Novices Chase 1.30pm but it’s pretty open. I tipped Two Taffs over hurdles at Haydock a couple of weeks ago and he was disappointing in the heavy ground.

I know how highly Dan Skelton’s team rate him and fences can bring out the best in him. He wasn’t beaten that far by Brain Power last season and that looks decent form now and connections have been itching to get going over the larger obstacles.

Poker School is the obvious danger as he was a good winner in the fog at Ascot last weekend.

While the decision to run Thistlecrack has certainly helped the King George VI Chase, it has also helped the Grade One Novice Chase at 2.05pm. A lot of these would have swerved a clash with Colin Tizzard’s novice if he had run here.

It strike me as a contest that may house future Hennessy rather than Cheltenham Gold Cup winners but I really fancy Irish challenger Anibale Fly. Tony Martin’s runner was second to Coney Island at Fairyhouse over 2m 4f in the Grade One Novices Chase earlier this month and the step up to 3m should suit.

Of the others, Minella Daddy was really unlucky at Ascot and jockey Sean Bowen was frustrated by the loose horse that completely disrupted his momentum going to the last fence with a couple of lengths lead. Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner Frodon is an interesting contender stepping up in distance. He’s getting 7lbs off the others but the slight worry is that win may have left its mark. French-breds are hardy, but he’s still only a four-year-old.

At Wetherby, the 3m Rowland Meyrik Handicap Chase (1.50pm) offers last year’s RSA Chase winner Blaklion the chance to get his season back on track after some tough tasks this season.

 

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In Ireland, there’s four-days of action coming up at Leopardstown and these contests will be very informative for Cheltenham 2017.

The Racing Post Novice Steeplechase 2.20pm looks a great race with Identity Thief taking on Min. Identity Thief has some solid hurdles form at the top table and has been impressive in his chasing career so far but I saw Min win on his first start at Navan over the larger obstacles and was very taken with him. Only Altior beat him over hurdles – but Min will be a better chaser than hurdler.

The Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle (1.15pm) could see the first three home in the Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse earlier this month take each other on again.

Bapaume was having his first run in Ireland for the Mullins team and pushed the winnerLandofhopeandglory all the way that day, despite making a mistake at the last.

I’d fancy Joseph O’ Brien’s runner to come out on top again but if it turned into a tactical affair, Bapaume wouldn’t have to find much to turn the tables on him.

O’Brien has Houses of Parliament entered to run in Tuesday’s opening maiden hurdle at the Foxrock track that Ivanovich Gorbatov won before going on to claim last season’s Triumph Hurdle. Houses of Parliament was a very smart horse on the Flat and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was to turn into a future Champion Hurdle contender.

What do you think?