Dynaste to come of age
Simon Holt previews Boxing Day's action from Kempton including the Christmas Hurdle and King George.
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DYNASTE, the horse who was inferior only to the mighty Big Buck's at one stage as a staying hurdler, can prove himself a star over fences by taking the prestigious William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
The David Pipe-trained grey was in tremendous form at this meeting 12 months ago when effortlessly landing the Feltham (now the Kauto Star) Novices' Chase by nine lengths from Hadrians Approach in similarly easy ground conditions.
Despite the ease of that victory, Dynaste recorded a more-than-three second faster time than Long Run in the King George itself later in the afternoon and, following an excellent reappearance when splitting Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase, looks ready to strike on a course and on ground which could prove tailor-made.
That Haydock race seems to be the key formline; Cue Card was an impressive winner, allaying many doubts over his stamina at three miles, but both of his rivals were making their seasonal debuts and should be much bigger threats here over a course and distance which may suit them better.
In a really superb career so far, one of Cue Card's few fluffs came in this race last year in which he was very disappointing even accounting for an early blunder and he may not be able to dominate as he did at Haydock with both Long Run and Champion Court likely to be ridden prominently. All his best form has been on left-handed tracks.
Silviniaco Conti looks a thorough stayer and, like the selection, will enjoy testing conditions. Trainer Paul Nicholls is convinced that he needed the run badly in the Betfair Chase and it is difficult to forget how well he appeared to be travelling when falling three out with Ruby Walsh in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March.
Second to Grands Crus in the Feltham two seasons ago, he rates perhaps the biggest threat to Dynaste even though I expect the latter to confirm the Haydock placings.
Post the Kauto Star and Denman era, steeplechasing now needs a new star to emerge. Last season's Gold Cup was won in grinding, rather than eyecatching, fashion by Bobs Worth and it will be interesting to see how the runner-up Sir Des Champs performs over the holiday period in a rematch with his Prestbury Park conqueror in the Lexus Chase.
However, the King George looks the more likely launchpad for a future staying chase star and either Dynaste or Silviniaco Conti, both strong travellers best suited to the likely ground conditions at Kempton, are the most obvious candidates.
The other possibility is Al Ferof. Second to Cue Card in the Cheltenham Festival bumper in 2010, he returned a year later to land the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Since then, Silviniaco Conti's stable-companion has raced somewhat intermittently enduring a long lay-off after winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup (2m4f) 13 months ago and only returning to beat French Opera in a match at Ascot. Hugely talented on his best form, Al Ferof needs to prove here that he retains all his ability but, most importantly, that he can stay three miles; the King George is no race for a short-runner.
If the grey truly stays, then he has a massive chance.
Given his record in this contest of two wins (the first by 12 lengths from Riverside Theatre) and a second (to Kauto Star), Long Run cannot be entirely written off despite two lacklustre runs this season, latterly behind Cue Card et al in the Betfair Chase.
If he is to return to form, then conditions will help his cause as it was pure guts and stamina that saw Sam Waley Cohen's admirable mount wear down Captain Chris here 12 months ago (Champion Court fourth, Cue Card fifth, Riverside Theatre sixth) and the fitting of a visor for the first time could well have a reawakening effect.
However, the odds are that Long Run is regressing a little - the drop in his handicap rating endorses this impression - but he could still be a very interesting contender in the Grand National later this term.
It must have been devastating for the connections of Captain Chris when last year's runner-up was withdrawn a few days ago after being found to be slightly lame by trainer Philip Hobbs, but they have quite an able deputy in Menorah who is unbeaten in three visits to Kempton.
High class over hurdles (a Supreme Novices winner, conqueror of Cue Card in a Stan James International and fifth in the Champion Hurdle), Menorah's jumping over fences has not always been convincing but he was in grand form last spring, chasing home French Lieutenant at Aintree (with Silviniaco Conti, probably unsuited by the quicker ground, a below-par third) and then narrowly failing to concede lumps of weight to Champion Court at Cheltenham.
A reproduction of those efforts could see him in contention but he must jump cleanly and this is his seasonal debut.
Finally, Riverside Theatre's failure in this race last year (having also been slammed by Long Run in 2010) is hard to forget despite a triumphant return in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon recently (in which he was receiving weight from runner-up Champion Court and third-placed Captain Chris) while Mount Benbulben, although well fancied by trainer Gordon Elliot, will have his suspect jumping put under considerable pressure here.
However, both are very able performers and this is a race in which not one of the nine runners can be completely discounted especially considering that conditions could be extremely testing.
Earlier, the William Hill Christmas Hurdle provides a fascinating clash between The New One and MY TENT OR YOURS.
Both of these classy hurdlers have been in grand form so far this season with the former winning here and at Cheltenham and the latter taking the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in comfortable fashion.
However, the imponderable on this occasion is pace - or lack of it - and both horses would probably be best suited by a true run race as The New One might otherwise find this course and distance (at this level) on the sharp side while My Tent Or Yours can be very free in the early stages.
This is more than likely going to become a speed test (even in soft ground) and, recalling that The New One was a winner over two miles five furlongs at the Festival last March and that My Tent Or Yours had the finish run out of him by an aggressively Champagne Fever in a strong renewal of the Supreme Novices, my guess is that Tony McCoy's mount may just be the quicker horse.
While finishing third behind 'My Tent' at Newcastle, it wouldn't surprise me if the more-than-useful Grumeti gave the big two a bit more to think about here. Alan King's charge has had a few problems in the recent past but his best form which includes a Triumph Hurdle third and a defeat of the now sadly retired Countrywide Flame at Aintree suggests he is worthy of respect.
And Sametegal is no slouch either, conceding plenty of weight to Dell' Arca when second in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November.