'Bite' bares teeth to claim King George
Straightforward is not a description that would apply to two of the three Grade One chases Might Bite had contested before yesterday's 32Red King George VI Chase but Kempton's Christmas feature could not have gone more like clockwork for the 6/4 favourite.
Beating a 50/1 shot, course specialist Double Shuffle, by a length may not have overly impressed the Handicapper or bookmakers, who largely left him unchanged at 6/1 for the Gold Cup, but the winning margin flattered the runner-up as Might Bite seemed to be idling for much of the way up the home straight after leading four out.
Certainly, Nico de Boinville, the winning jockey, never appeared much concerned by the proximity of the runner-up or Tea For Two, which ran a seasonal best two lengths back in third, just ahead of last year's winner, Thistlecrack.
For much of the race the lead flip-flopped between Bristol De Mai, the second favourite, and Might Bite, whose jumping was spectacular as he gave some fences three foot all round.
But Nigel Twiston-Davies's grey chaser either needs a proper bog to show his best or he left his King George somewhere in Haydock's November mud, because he folded quickly five out and finished a tame sixth.
Might Bite is owned by a 10-person syndicate, which includes trainer Nicky Henderson's sister, Josie, and provided a third King George win for the trainer.
"He's good to watch," said Henderson. "After the days of Sprinter Sacre, he has huge sex appeal. He loves the showmanship and to boss it and say, 'Look at me'.
"What happened here last year was one of those things, but Cheltenham's a different ball game - he's got to behave there (he tried to duck back to the paddock in last season's RSA). He'll probably want to go right at the last again. He'll have to go there, but what we do in between is another question. It won't be a slog in a bog."
Thistlecrack ran much better than he had on his comeback at Newbury. Looking much trimmer and based on last year's form with Tea For Two, it may be that he still needed it.
His stable companion, Fox Norton, was pulled up, while Whisper, a well-beaten fifth, was either missing Davy Russell or was still feeling the effects of a hard race at Newbury.
The win, combined with the victory of a very slick Buveur D'Air in the Unibet Christmas Hurdle, propelled Henderson to the top of the British trainers' championship ahead of Paul Nicholls.
Nicholls won the Kauto Star Novice Chase with Black Corton, on whom Bryony Frost became the second female jockey to win the Grade One chase two years after Lizzie Kelly.
Meanwhile, Colin Tizzard - without a Grade One winner this season - can land the Welsh National (2.50) at Chepstow today with Buckhorn Timothy.
Weight could be key to the outcome and, although it is in reality a limited handicap, in today's heavy conditions carrying less than 11st looks likely to be advantageous.
At Kempton, Politologue should take another step up the two-mile chase ladder by winning the Desert Orchid Chase (2.30).
Special Tiara, the reigning champion chaser, provides a good benchmark particularly if there is not much overnight rain and, after running against Henry de Bromhead's reliable 10-year-old, winner of this race last year, we will get a better idea of where Politologue stands. (© Daily Telegraph, London)