7/1 Fox Norton to land the King George - and the Gold Cup!

Eight are declared for the 2017 renewal of Boxing Day’s King George Chase at Kempton, one of the deepest and most competitive in recent memory.

A Grade 1 chase over three miles, it’s one of the top races in the jumps calendar and has been won by so many of the greats – most recently by former World Hurdler Thistlecrack who, quite amazingly given his emphatic performance last year, can be backed at 7/1 for back-to-back successes.

He’s that price as a tendon injury robbed him of a Gold Cup bid last season and he underwhelmed on his return behind Beer Goggles and Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury, meaning he has his form to prove again, and the fact that he’s vying for third-favoritism is clear proof this is a far deeper renewal than last year.

Ahead of him in the market are RSA Chase winner Might Bite and runaway Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai.

The absence of Gold Cup winner Sizing John means Colin Tizzard also steps’Fox Norton – under the same ownership – up in trip, while Might Bite’s stablemate Whisper, who he repeatedly beat last season, also takes his chance after receiving a huge hike in the ratings because of an awesome weight-carrying performance in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, where he was narrowly beaten in second.

Beyond that, the rest are no-hopers in my opinion with Double Shuffle, Tea For Two and Traffic Fluide unlikely to be competitive in this company – though I’m convinced Traffic Fluide has a big day in him.

It’s such a difficult puzzle to solve this year and it’s rarely a race to get clever with as the favourites are almost always there for the right reasons.

Strong favourite this year is Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite, the leading novice from last season who won Grade 1s at Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring and looked as good as ever in a facile reappearance win at Sandown.

There are reasons to take him on as this is by far his toughest assignment to date and he’s so far shown all his best form on a sound surface – which isn’t guaranteed with rain forecast – yet Kempton never gets too testing and I think he’ll handle the forecast softer conditions.

He does have that to prove, though, and I’m concious that good ground horses can struggle with their jumping when conditions deteriorate – ex-Gold Cup winner Don Cossack, who fell in this race a few seasons ago, a perfect example – and considering his reputation for hitting the self-destruct button after several high-profile misdemeanours, I think he has to be taken on at 11/8 against such a deep field.

Might Bite and Thistlecrack both ran on this card the previous year, when the former famously fell at the last when miles clear in the Grade 1 novices’ chase.

Thistlecrack won the King George with plenty in hand but did so in a time that would have been significantly slower than Might Bite was set to post, so there’s a popular line of thought that Nicky Henderson’s second-season chaser has a form advantage.

I don’t particularly buy into that because Thistlecrack was an emphatic winner that day and really only did what he had to do to win, finishing with loads of petrol left in the tank.

He was awesome on the day and three miles around Kempton looked perfect for him – as it did Might Bite – so if that tendon injury hadn’t have interrupted his season I’d be firmly on his side for this.

The issue is tendon injuries are nightmares and he looked nowhere near his best in his long-awaited return at Newbury – form which Unowhatimeanharry, who finished ahead of him, did little to boost that form when trailing home third in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot – so Thistlecrack has an awful lot to prove in what is the toughest assignment of his career as well.

Second-favourite Bristol De Mai is the enigma coming into the race, as it feels like Nigel Twiston-Davies’s stable star has been around forever despite him only turning seven this coming January.

He clear at the top of the ratings after a Betfair Chase demolition job through heavy ground at Haydock, recording one of the biggest Grade 1 winning margins in history.

Prior to that he’d won the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby beating Blaklion, who went on to boost that form by landing the Becher chase in emphatic fashion.

With age on his side this hit-and-miss horse could have progressed into being the real deal, but doubts remain about his Grade 1 class when the ground doesn’t come up bottomless, which it won’t.

Three miles at Kempton might even be on the sharp side for him as, for me, he’s going to be most effective over marathon trips – the Betfair Chase was over significantly longer than the King George for the first time this year.

With Might Bite in attendance this will be a serious gallop and I just can’t see Bristol De Mai winning that particular match, so he’s hard to fancy ahead of the favourite.

The one I’m going to be on is FOX NORTON, a real favourite of these pages, for his first attempt at three miles.

He’s a Grade 1 winner over two miles and has finished tight seconds in both the Champion Chase and Tingle Creek, where he’s done all his best work late on in he style of a horse wanting a step up in trip.

Step up he did at Aintree last season when he demolished a Grade 1 field in the Melling Chase, seemingly never reaching top gear.

That was over two-miles-four and it again left the impression another step up in trip may suit, so three miles around Kempton looks well within his reach and I’m thrilled they’re having a go at the King George given how highly I rate him.

I’ve already backed Fox Norton ante-post at 50/1 for the Gold Cup and suggest you do too as King George success would surely see him go on to take on his team mate Sizing John in the big one in March.

He’ll have no issues going Might Bite’s gallop given his experience over two miles at the highest level, and with no ground concerns or any real reason to doubt his jumping, it’s only his stamina that he has to prove.

With that in mind I like the 7/1 quotes on offer – however I never back doubtful stayers each-way given they’re typically boom or bust.

Wait for around 10 on Tuesday morning for the best prices as the market is so competitive and Fox Norton looks a likely drifter given the popular money will come for Thistlecrack.

1pt win Fox Norton @7/1, 15:05 Kempton, Boxing Day
0.5pts ante-post win Fox Norton @50/1, Cheltenham Gold Cup

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