The King George at Kempton is jumps racing’s traditional Boxing Day highlight and the 2023 edition looks to be as high class, competitive and intriguing a renewal as we’ve seen for quite some time.
Willie Mullins’ dual Ryanair Chase winner Allaho heads the betting from last year’s winner Bravemansgame, followed by the mercurial six-time Grade 1 winner Shishkin – all three have BHA official ratings in the elite echelon that is the 170s but they each have questions to answer.
The seven-runner field is rounded out by three more Grade 1 winning beasts: Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase winner The Real Whacker, globe-trotting Galway Plate winner Hewick and 2020 King George winner Frodon.
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Allaho has fewest question marks among the market principals
As mentioned above the front three in the market Allaho, Bravemansgame and Shishkin all have question marks likely to put backers off betting on them to win the King George.
Shishkin has been all peaks and troughs since his 10-race winning streak came to a deflating end when he was pulled up in the 2022 Champion Chase.
Since then, he’s run five times winning two Grade 1s but has also finished a distant third in a Tingle Creek, thrown away a Ryanair Chase with poor jumping and most recently refused to race.
Having also missed an intended pipe opener over hurdles since then he’s trusted least, especially in a race where the each-way angle is reduced to two places.
Then there’s reigning champion Bravemansgame, who has underwhelmed twice on the spin and not won a race since last year’s running. He’s often set sail in the deepest of waters since then of course, but has now been bested at odds of 10/11 and 8/11 in two starts this term.
No trainer is more likely to get him back to where he needs to be for this contest than Paul Nicholls of course. The Ditcheat handler has saddled the winner in four of the last five years and a total of 13 winners in all, including five horses to have won the festive showpiece twice.
However, doubts remain about how good a race last year’s running was. L’Homme Presse, Bravemansgame’s chief market rival in 2022 hasn’t raced since. The rest of the field – Royal Pagaille, an ageing Frodon, Eldorado Allen and Millers Bank among them – were beaten a distance.
Really the only complaint about market leader Allaho is that he’s had just one run since returning from a 561-day layoff and didn’t look quite as imperious as he had during his scrapbook successes in two consecutive Ryanair Chases and a Punchestown Gold Cup.
Over the course of his career he has indeed jumped better than he did in his comfortable nine-length Grade 2 win over Janidil in early November at Clonmel. However, that performance also attested to the fact his engine remains in good order following his spell on the sidelines.
The Willie Mullins inmate has often come on significantly for his seasonal returns in the past, including in the jumping department, so a better Allaho can be expected at Kempton.
Finally, the fact that his trainer sends him over at all is a significant vote of confidence in the 10-year-old. Despite a strength in depth unparalleled in the sport at his Closutton yard Mullins has saddled just six runners in the race in the last 20 years.
That sextet have yielded one winner and two placed horses, with Vautor, one of the minor medallists, beaten by just a head in an epic battle with Cue Card in 2015.
Allaho has the speed to get the entire field labouring, the jumping to maintain it and the staying power to last three miles at Kempton.
His three-mile win in the 2022 Punchestown Gold Cup is arguably the best of any horse contesting this year’s King George. He came home 14 lengths and more clear of dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux and dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo.