Top class performances from Kemboy and Clan Des Obeaux saw them shake up the Cheltenham Gold Cup market with big wins at Leopardstown and Kempton respectively.
Clan Des Obeaux provides Paul Nicholls with an astonishing tenth King George winner
Strongly flagged up on these pages as a serious Gold Cup contender on December 2nd while still a 50/1 shot, Clan Des Obeaux justified the faith in him by landing Kempton’s King George Chase in impressive fashion.
The subject of some shrewd money, the rapidly improving six year old was sent off at 12/1 after opening on course at 20/1. Jumping soundly under the brilliant Harry Cobden, he at times looked slightly taken off his feet by the fast pace on this sharp track, but the son of Kapgarde has such an engine that he came back on the bridle up the home stretch as previous King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup winners were left trailing.
With ears pricked, a brilliant jump at the last sealed the deal from the gallant Thistlecrack, with 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River staying on for third.
Overall, I would have to say, that despite the above mentioned Thistlecrack winning this race as a novice, Clan Des Obeaux was surely the greenest horse to win a King George in my lifetime. He really looks to me like he is still not at all certain about what he is supposed to be doing. I also think he will keep improving physically and that running twice up the Cheltenham hill will suit him better than the bare three miles on Kempton’s flat track.
This is a very very good horse who will keep getting better and I still think he is underestimated by bookmakers at 10/1 for the March showpiece.
Of the others, Thistlecrack clearly showed that he is back to something like his best. However, if this strong traveller couldn’t beat Clan Des Obeaux on this flat track, then I can’t see him beating his younger rival up the famous Cheltenham hill.
Native River, unsuited by the track and under the pump a long way from home, stayed on like a lion for third. He will be better suited by the demands of the Gold Cup, but so will Clan Des Obeaux and that one is open to a lot more improvement. He is a superstar who can’t be knocked, but in light of the potential heirs to his throne that have emerged in recent days, I now make Native River about 10/1 to defend his crown. The general 5/1 currently being offered by layers is frankly a disgrace.
Kemboy is simply sensational in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown
Just when I was feeling super snug with my 50/1 about Clan Des Obeaux for the Gold Cup, along comes Willie Mullins with a major fly in the ointment.
What was perhaps the scariest thing about Kemboy totally dominating this field of top class staying chasers was the fact that Mullins himself seemed as shocked as anyone post race. Similar to Clan Des Obeaux, when a young horse from a top yard starts improving at such a fast rate, then the sky really is the limit as to where it might end.
Make no mistake, what Kemboy did was quite incredible. Still pulling for his head at the half way point, his rider made a bold move and allowed his mount to round the whole field and take up the running. The maneuver did help to settle the horse as he continued on his merry way, still maybe even a bit keen. Many, including yours truly, expected him to fade, but it never happened as Kemboy sprinted clear up the straight for an easy win.
The truth is that the next five home were covered by only two and a half lengths and the speed figures confirm that it was a very slowly run race. This might in some way detract from the form, but one could only be impressed by the winner.
I’ll put it to you this way: if Presenting Percy had won in that fashion he would now be 7/4 for the Gold Cup. So why is Kemboy still 8/1? I’m a numbers man myself and these numbers just don’t add up.
Is Kemboy not an improving young horse from the best yard around, with a string of wins before his name and possibly the best piece of form we have seen all season?
Kemboy still seems underestimated to me and those who think he was flattered by a good ride and stole the race are badly mistaken. It wasn’t as if he poached a big lead and got away from them. The truth is that he jumped the second last in joint first and was still only about two lengths clear at the last. He sprinted clear because he was by far and away the best horse in the race and it is conceivable to think that he might have won by further with a stronger pace.
After a troubled passage, Road To Riches clearly emerged as the second best horse in the race and is proving a very reliable yardstick at the highest level. He can again challenge for places at Cheltenham, but is probably not quite good enough for the win.
Is Presenting Percy still a worthy favourite for the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup?
This horse is clearly high class and progressive. Pat Kelly has also trained him beautifully to already twice win at the Cheltenham Festival and he for sure is still a serious Gold Cup contender.
However, all this stuff about him waiting for softer ground is a load of nonsense if you ask me. There is little or nothing to suggest the horse needs soft ground and it is my personal belief that he is probably better on good ground. In fact, he scooted up in a Pertemps Hurdle Final at Cheltenham on the fastest ground he has encountered.
As for minding him by waiting for the ground to change? How is racing him in a bog going to be easier on the horse than racing him on perfectly safe, good ground? I’m baffled by all of this stuff and see it as a total overreaction.
Just before Cheltenham last year, Gordon Elliot said one of the best things I have ever heard a trainer say. When asked about general ground preferences for his festival team he seemed irritated and replied, “This is our Olympics. There will be no excuses about ground. The horses are ready to go.”
I’m not suggesting that some horses don’t have ground preferences as many obviously do. I’m just saying that it’s a factor that is greatly overrated by many and the current situation with Presenting Percy is a classic example. I have made a lot of money over the years by ignoring trainers and jockeys and deciding on what I have seen for myself as to what ground a horse might like.
I will lay an egg if Presenting Percy needs soft ground.
As things stand, Presenting Percy is still a major candidate for Cheltenham Gold Cup honours. Kemboy and Clan Des Obeaux have emerged as his main challengers and I make it about 5/1 the trio. I really do find it hard to split them at this stage. Native River is next best and should be about 10/1 with 14/1 bar those four.