Tony McCoy backing Don Cossack to deliver in King George for Gordon Elliott
Tony McCoy believes Don Cossack has what it takes to become the first Irish-trained winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton since Kicking King bagged the second of his successes in 2005.
In the care of increasingly-powerful Gordon Elliott, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned eight-year-old has won eight of his last nine starts, not being troubled in two outings so far this season.
The now-retired McCoy, who won the Boxing Day showpiece on the great Best Mate in 2002, said: "Looking at this year's race, as long as the ground doesn't get too heavy, I would be very keen on Don Cossack.
"He's a much better horse on better ground and I think the less rain we have the better for him. I think he looked a little lethargic at Down Royal because of the ground, but I think he's a better horse than how he looks."
McCoy told his William Hill blog that chief market rival Vautour has it "all to prove" on the back of what some saw as a winning performance at Ascot on his reappearance that left questions to answer.
The 20-times champion said of the Willie Mullins runner: "I think Vautour has it all to prove on his Ascot performance, but at the same time we don't know what kind of preparation he had. He jumped left that day and I know they don't think that's an issue but I'm not convinced.
"I don't think staying will be a problem, I'd be more worried about him jumping left because Kempton is on the turn a good bit and I don't think it would be an advantage going the wrong way round.
"Cue Card was very impressive at Wetherby and Haydock. The handicapper suggested his performance was as good as ever. If I was going to pick two horses it would be Don Cossack and Cue Card.
"As long as it doesn't get too heavy, I think Don Cossack will win the William Hill King George."
He added: "Chanelle (wife) is good at buying me Christmas presents, but the best Christmas present I've ever received was getting the ride on Best Mate and winning the King George
"It is harder to watch the big races like the King George. At the same time the reality is that while it's difficult for me to retire, it's a lot more difficult for those jockeys who have been less fortunate. I was lucky that I had a lot of success."
Richard Johnson is almost certain to succeed McCoy as champion jockey and while he does not have a ride in the race, he would like to be on Cue Card if he had the chance.
The Colin Tizzard-trained nine-year-old will be running in the King George for the fourth time, coming closest two years ago when second, and has looked rejuvenated this campaign, winning the Charlie Hall and the Betfair Chase.
Johnson, writing for Betway, said: I've been asked by many who I'd like to ride in the King George if given the opportunity to ride anything. I have to admit, it's a real tough one.
"Don Cossack is quite rightly favourite and a solid one at that. He's been in terrific form of late and without doubt looks the one they all have to beat.
"As for Vautour, he is definitely the least exposed and I was blown away by his win in the JLT at last year's Festival. I suppose the one thing with him is that he has to step up again, particularly after a relatively-workmanlike reappearance at Ascot.
"If pushed, I suppose that means I'd like to be riding the evergreen Cue Card who has looked better than ever this season. Colin Tizzard's team continue in rude health and the bandwagon rolled on at Ascot last weekend where Thistlecrack was hugely impressive in the Long Walk.
"Yes, Cue Card hasn't been seen at his best in this race in three previous attempts, but I judge him purely on what I have seen so far this season and he looked awesome at Haydock. He seems to now relax in his races which means he jumps better and that will help him."
Barry Geraghty rides outsider Irish Cavalier - but believes Rebecca Curtis' charge can out-run his odds.
He told At The Races: "Irish Cavalier obviously has to improve if he is to go close, he is the lowest-rated horse in the race on official ratings. This is the best King George in recent years. Don Cossack, Vautour and Cue Card are all top-class chasers.
"That said, Irish Cavalier deserves to take his chance in the race, it is a race that could suit him. He won the two-and-a-half-mile novices' handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March, but he always shaped like a stayer over that trip.
"He fell early on in the Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree in April on his first attempt at three miles, but he ran a big race in the Growise Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival on his second, when he was beaten a total of just over four lengths by Valseur Lido.
"Irish Cavalier was really impressive in winning on his debut this season at Newton Abbot, and he looked set to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham when he landed over the last in front.
"I will be able to be patient on him, there is so much early pace in the race. Hopefully we will get a nice run through the race, because he is no 50-1 shot. Rebecca's horses are in better form now than they were earlier in the season, and he has an each-way chance."