Kauto destined to join immortals
The news corps have got plenty of mileage out of disgruntled trainers this week ahead of the rescheduled William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton Park today.
Nigel Twiston-Davies kicked up a fuss when the BHA wouldn't bend the rules to facilitate his change of heart on the participation of Imperial Commander in the Grade One, while Nicky Henderson has been keen to get his excuses in early for Long Run, claiming the horse "is fine, but he was really, really fine on December 26."
Paul Nicholls, the man under the most pressure in light of the delay that has prolonged the focus on Kauto Star's bid for an unprecedented fifth King George triumph, has been quietly getting on with business.
The champion trainer tends to let his results do the talking, and his own willingness to be flexible has allowed Kauto Star to amass the incredible record that he has done over the course of his glittering career.
As the 11-year-old attempts to further embellish his legacy with what would be another remarkable success in this most prestigious of steeplechases, he does so under the guidance of Tony McCoy for the first time. Ruby Walsh and Noel Fehily's loss is the Antrim man's gain, and the new partnership will be incredibly hard to beat.
Despite coming unstuck in the Gold Cup in March, Kauto Star reasserted his standing as National Hunt racing's most precious exponent by easily disposing of Sizing Europe and China Rock on his reappearance at Down Royal in November.
On the day, he was as comprehensive as he needed to be and there is no reason to believe that yet another polished Kempton performance won't be forthcoming now.
Granted, the field that confronts Kauto Star is probably the best that he has faced in this race since Our Vic and Exotic Dancer chased him home in 2007. With the ground possibly gone against Forpadydeplasterer and the course specialist Riverside Theatre, The Nightingale, along with Long Run, has emerged as an unexpected threat.
Nevertheless, none of the eight challengers have yet done anything to suggest that it is within their capabilities to dethrone an on-song Kauto Star. Immortality beckons.
The Christmas Hurdle is another Grade One to savour. Binocular heads the betting for the two-miler, but potential spoilers are plentiful, with Starluck, Overturn, Escort'men and Khyber Kim all capable of making their presence felt at this level.
While Binocular is expected to improve for his debut -- when third to Peddlers Cross and Starluck at Newbury -- Starluck is the smarter option at up to 11/4. Henderson's horses are in a rich vein of form, but, given that Starluck finished six lengths in front of Binocular last time, Alan Fleming's representative is the value bet.
Significantly, Timmy Murphy's mount is better around Kempton than anywhere else, having hosed up in a novice hurdle at the Christmas meeting two years ago, before going down by just a short head to Go Native in this race in 2009. On the back of his promising seasonal reappearance, he is well placed to go one better now.
Henderson saddles a more appealing prospect in the two-mile novice chase. Nadiya De La Vega looked really promising on her chasing debut at Warwick in November, and the easy front-running style that she displayed then will be an even more potent tool around Kempton's sharp circuit.
If Barry Geraghty's mount progresses from that, on just her fifth career start, she will be hard to beat. Pepe Simo and Dee Ee Williams are potential dangers, but you couldn't be confident that either will be up to conceding 11lbs to the selection.
Also at Kempton, Bygones Of Brid has the form in the book to defy odds of 12/1 in the Lanzarote Hurdle. A good novice hurdler last season, he was fourth to Peddlers Cross, Starluck and Binocular last time, so he is favourably weighted off 11st here.
Best bet: Starluck