CHRISTMAS during my late teens involved lots of eating, drinking… and feverish speculation about the King George VI Chase. It has always been one of the highlights of my festive fare and watching Desert Orchid dismantle the opposition in the 1980s became a much-loved part of the yuletide routine.
Greys and the King George have been comfortable bedfellows. After Dessie, Teeton Mill devastated the field on soft ground in 1998 while One Man also did the business in 1995 and 1996.
So could it be time for another flying grey to become the king of Kempton and evoke memories of Dessie and Co?
His name is Champagne Fever and he is very much in the mould of Dessie. He likes to bowl along in front and he could have the class, speed and stamina to see off last year’s winner Silviniaco Conti.
Ruby Walsh, who won the King George five times on another King George legend Kauto Star, is sacrificing the ride on Vautour in Ireland to ride Champagne Fever and admits that this will “break my heart”.
But Ruby also purrs: “Champagne Fever is the right type of horse for the King George. He jumps great and has pace.”
Champagne Fever will be having only his sixth start over fences and his first try at three miles and Willie Mullins has been at pains to dampen enthusiasm about his chances as he accepts that he faces a stiff task. Champagne Fever has also disappointed around this time of year in previous seasons before coming alive in the spring.
But there is stamina in his pedigree and he has oodles of class. He did remarkably well to win the Supreme Novices Hurdle and I still cannot believe that he got chinned by Western Warhorse in the Arkle in March.
Mullins says: “Last season we stayed two-mile chasing but the reality is that everything suggests he wants three miles-plus.”
Champagne Fever is second in the betting to Silviniaco Conti who does look bombproof although I reckon Champagne Fever will drift like a barge and start bigger than 10-3.
A maximum of 10 horses will go to post for the King George including Al Ferof, Dynaste and Menorah. The latter pair should attract lots of money if we have a dry week (which is forecast). Menorah, in particular, is in the form of his life and will be in the mix if repeating his Betfair Chase form.
Checkout the latest King George VI Chase betting.