Nicky Henderson does not expect a repeat of last year’s drama at Kempton on Boxing Day when hot favourite Might Bite runs in the 32Red King George VI Chase.
Having burst on the scene this time 12 months ago, he seemingly had the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at his mercy, only to fall at the last, and it has taken all of Henderson’s patience and skill to get him back up to the same level.
His victory in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March was one of the most remarkable of the season and he followed up at Aintree, by which time Henderson was already thinking of the Christmas showpiece.
Briefly the idea of winning the £1million Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown was flirted with, but heavy ground in the Betfair Chase at Haydock was never going to be his thing.
“He is not a horse that needs a huge amount of work and you can see why I am pleased we didn’t go to Haydock, on the ground that cropped up that day,” said the champion trainer.
“I don’t regret doing what we did in going to Sandown instead. At least we are safe and sound and have a happy horse, which is what we want.
“To go back to Kempton last year, there were no quirks that day. It was a one, two, three and miss and he had never looked like doing anything like that up until then. Since then his jumping has been clean and accurate.
“Wherever he went last year, his jumping was good. Sometimes you are having to curtail it. You can’t let him have his yahoos all the way round, as he would be doing too much.
“He is a much sharper horse this year. I don’t know why. He looks feisty and well. He’s working much better than he did last year.”
Henderson also runs Whisper, second to his stablemate at Cheltenham and Aintree and also second in the Ladbrokes Trophy last time out.
“It was Dai (Walters, owners) who wanted to go for the King George and I don’t disagree with him,” said Henderson.
“At his age, Dai rather feels that the race is there and the prize-money is there. He feels inclined to take on Might Bite and everyone else.”
Might Bite’s main market rival is Bristol De Mai following his effortless win in the Betfair Chase, and his connections are hoping to see him prove he is not simply a mudlark at his favourite track.
“We’re very happy. All seems good. It’s a different track (to Haydock), but I don’t see it being much of a problem,” said trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
“He’s got plenty of speed. He’s won over two and a half miles around Sandown and he’s won over two miles. I don’t think speed is his problem.
“Hopefully he gets better with age. He’s a May foal, so he’s really only just over six. This is what racing is about - to stop the gossip and prove a point.
“It’ll be a great day. I get very nervous and as we get closer to the time I’ll get more geed up.”
Last year’s winner Thistlecrack is on a retrieval mission, having been well beaten on his return from injury over hurdles, but trainer Colin Tizzard is making all the right noises.
“We jumped Thistlecrack on the grass on Friday morning and he jumped lovely. I am really pleased with him,” said Tizzard.
“He is a different horse since Newbury and you wouldn’t recognise him. He has come right into himself now.
“I will be amazed if he doesn’t run a big race.”
Tizzard also runs Fox Norton, who steps up to three miles having just failed to reel in Politologue in the Tingle Creek Chase.
“There are so many two-milers rated like he is that have come in and really excelled in the King George,” he said.
“He looks brilliant on the gallops at the moment and he has had two runs now, which will put him right for the race.
“He has got a lovely chance, I think.”
A long way behind Bristol De Mai at Haydock was Tea For Two, who finished fourth in the race last year and takes his chance again, with outsiders Double Shuffle and Traffic Fluide completing the field.