Jockey Barry Geraghty feels the application of headgear on Riverside Theatre will have a positive impact in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
- Related Content
Riverside Theatre, trained by NIcky Henderson and part-owned by actor Jimmy Nesbitt, returned to something like his old form when winning the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on his seasonal reappearance.
That performance was very reminiscent of his win in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival of 2012 in that he did not look a likely victor until the final half-furlong.
The nine-year-old finished second to stablemate Long Run in the rearranged 2010 renewal but was only sixth behind the same horse last season.
Connections feel now is the time to reach for a few aids to help him travel better in his races and while Geraghty has full respect for Cue Card, it is Al Ferof who he feels could be the one to watch.
Speaking in his www.attheraces.com blog, Geraghty said: "The King George VI Chase is a real jumping classic and I've been on the winner twice with Kicking King in 2004 and 2005.
"I'm back this year for another crack on Riverside Theatre, who was 12 lengths second to Long Run two years back, and once again I can see him doing very well in what is an extremely open and highly-competitive race where it's pretty hard to leave any of the nine runners out of calculations.
"The biggest plus for my horse could well be the application of a hood and blinkers. When I rode him to win at Huntingdon last time it was pretty hard work over a trip that's now on the short side, but he showed plenty of heart to win.
"It was decided afterwards that he was worth a try in blinkers and when I schooled him in them last week, he was electric and felt very sharp and focused.
"Huntingdon would have bought him on and he has no issues with ground. With the blinkers sharpening him up, I honestly believe that we can figure in this.
"I have plenty of respect for Cue Card on his Haydock win when he had Dynaste, Silviniaco Conti and Long Run behind.
"But I am also a big Al Ferof fan. To my eye he is a potential Gold Cup horse and he'll love this trip, which he'll be getting for the first time. I think that the Paddy Power he won in 2012 was as good a running of the race as there's been in recent years.
"Of those that ran at Haydock, I'd expect plenty of improvement from Silviniaco Conti and likewise Dynaste, who were both having their first outings whereas Cue Card and Long Run had been out before. The gap is definitely going to shrink.
"If the visor first time sparks Long Run then he becomes a player, too, given his form in this race reads 121."
Champion jockey Tony McCoy is without a ride in the race but he is a big fan of Cue Card, although he feels the horse may be better going left-handed.
He told William Hill radio: "I'm firmly in the Cue Card camp, the only thing that would put me off him, is that I do think he's a slightly better horse going left-handed, but his performance at Haydock was top class."
Colin Tizzard's stable star silenced those who doubted his ability to stay three miles with a determined display in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month and he will once again lock horns with the runner-up on Merseyside, David Pipe's Dynaste.
Colin Tizzard and his son Joe are trying to play down a scare over some of his horses suffering from a virus, which they admitted on a recent press visit to his stable.
Their big name horse was also unable to manage better than third when attempting to retain Exeter's Haldon Gold Cup on his reappearance.
Cue Card was given a try over three miles for the first time in last year's King George, but he finished a lacklustre fifth, beaten 20 lengths.
"We're absolutely delighted with him and he came out of the Haydock race very well," said Tizzard snr.
"I thought he was nearly unbeatable at Exeter, but apparently the last win in a handicap off his rating was Denman (2009 Hennessy ) so that puts it into perspective. He didn't jump as well as he could have, for whatever reason, but he put that to bed at Haydock.
"The race brought him on and we were a bit harder on him. He takes it ever so well.
"He looked as though he's a dour stayer. Most Champion Bumper horses have ended up three milers or three-mile plus and at Haydock he was in his comfort zone when the rest were going flat out.
"It was the first time he had run over (three miles), in last year's King George it wasn't his day, for whatever reason, but he put that to bed for the rest of the season."
Joe Tizzard said: "He's in great form, the next time I rode him after Haydock was about 10 days after, he felt better again, and he's in tremendous form.
"At Exeter I came back and said we shouldn't run over that sort of trip again, he was giving lots of weight away and wasn't as fit as he can be but I genuinely think the horse that won at Haydock would have won at Exeter."
Paul Nicholls, trainer of the five-times King George hero Kauto Star, has two major contenders this time around.
Al Ferof made a winning return from over a year off the track in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot and will be ridden by Daryl Jacob, while stable companion and Betfair Chase third Silviniaco Conti is also in the field and is the mount of Noel Fehily.
Nicholls' great rival Nicky Henderson saddles dual King George winner Long Run as well as the aforementioned Riverside Theatre.
Long Run has something to prove after disappointing in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and the Betfair Chase and is fitted with a visor for the first time.
Long Run, fourth to Cue Card at Haydock, often wore cheekpieces in the past and owner Robert Waley-Cohen is enjoying the lack of expectation which has accompanied him to Kempton in the past.
"I love being under the radar this year," he said.
"He has won three times and been second once at Kempton so it's a course that suits him. I think the older he gets, the longer it takes him to get fit but he is jumping much better than he did in his younger days.
"He needs a good, fast pace. I never thought Cue Card would stay three miles the way he did at Haydock, so hats off to the Tizzard family - he's entitled to go there as the favourite."
Pipe is expecting some improvement from Dynaste, especially with the deteriorating conditions at the Sunbury course.
He told At The Races: "It was our first run of the season (at Haydock) and we'd like to think we can get a little bit more out of him.
"He was very impressive in the Feltham last year, so obviously he likes the track and if this rain keeps falling, I think that will probably play to our strengths as well.
"He wasn't good enough on the day last season at Cheltenham, but I'm not sure you saw the real Dynaste there.
"It was great to end the season winning at Aintree and he put in a career-best last time at Haydock, so he must be improving.
"We haven't really looked much further than the King George. I expect he'll have an entry in the Gold Cup and I expect he'll have an entry in the Ryanair.
"You have to put the horse in the race that his best for him."
The line-up is completed by Martin Keighley's Peterborough Chase runner-up Champion Court and Gordon Elliott's Irish raider Mount Benbulben.
The only two horses not declared were Captain Chris and the Willie Mullins-trained Prince de Beauchene.
The nine-year-old Captain Chris was due to represent trainer Philip Hobbs in the Grade One feature but will now not be running after suffering a minor injury during a schooling session on Monday morning.
While the problem means he will not have the chance to improve on last year's second in the race, Hobbs is hoping to have Captain Chris back in action next month.
He said: "He won't be running on Boxing Day. He's banged a joint schooling, it's nothing serious but he won't be running. I hope he will now run in the new williamhill.com Chase at Kempton on January 11."
Although Captain Chris will not take his chance, Hobbs is still set to be represented in the King George with Menorah making his seasonal reappearance in the race.
The trainer added: "He runs and is in good form."