|King George VI Chase|
|Venue: Kempton Park Date: Tuesday, 26 December Time: 15:05 GMT|
|Coverage: BBC Radio 5 live|
Ever the diplomat, Daryl Jacob, rider of King George VI Chase second-favourite Bristol De Mai, insists he respects the chances of all seven of his big-race opponents.
Of course, in a good quality staging of jump racing’s three-mile mid-season championship steeplechase, it is correct he should do so.
The sometimes enigmatic favourite Might Bite and his fellow Nicky Henderson-trained contender Whisper provide strong form.
Thistlecrack was runaway King George winner in 2016, although he rather fluffed his lines early this month.
Fox Norton was only inches away from a Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown Grade One-race treble over shorter distances last spring, and Tea For Two has stacks of ability on his day.
“It’s a very, very good race, and a tough race,” says Jacob. “I fear every one of them – you have to. It’s a Grade One – they wouldn’t be running if they didn’t have a chance of winning.
“Our horse has been a great horse for us already, and hopefully this is the next chapter.”
|King George VI Chase runners|
|Might Bite (fav 11-8), Bristol De Mai (7-2), Thistlecrack (11-2), Fox Norton (7-1), Whisper (15-2), Tea For Two (22-1), Double Shuffle (66-1), Traffic Fluide (80-1)|
All that is correct, but, like the rest of us, I’m sure the jockey knows that the manner in which Bristol De Mai’s so far unbeaten season has gone means that it’s actually he who has been doing much of the collecting of respect.
And not just from his on-course rivals.
Because, although Jacob says the grey-coloured six-year-old, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies for businessmen-owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, has been highly-rated by those around him ever since arriving from France in 2014, appreciation by racing as a whole has perhaps taken a little longer.
Though some still remain unconvinced of his star quality away from rain-softened going, for many others perceptions have changed this autumn.
Defeat of the Grand National favourite Blaklion, also trained by Twiston-Davies, at Wetherby in November, started the recognition process rolling, and that then accelerated with a wide-margin success in the Betfair Chase at Haydock three weeks later.
That Haydock victory – achieved in heavy ground conditions – was a thrill to witness as Bristol De Mai positively drubbed jump-racing favourite Cue Card by 57 lengths.
It also represented success in the first leg of the Jockey Club’s £1m ‘Steeplechasing Triple Crown’, the second and third legs of which are the King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. So the stakes are now higher than ever.
Reflecting on Haydock, Jacob, who’s contracted to ride as first-choice jockey to the ever-burgeoning string running in Munir’s and Souede’s green silks, said: “From the saddle, it was very good. I thought he’d improve from the Charlie Hall [at Wetherby] and he duly did.
“Conditions were A1 up at Haydock, and he’s jumped and galloped brilliantly. It was very special.”
So how essential is that soft ground, which is, incidentally, forecast for Kempton on Boxing Day?
“He’s best on heavy going because he gets other horses out of their comfort zone, but he has won on good and he has won on good to soft, all sorts,” Jacob says.
The 34-year-old, winner of the 2012 Grand National on Neptune Collonges, is determined to try to enjoy the Christmas festivities – because of the way the calendar falls, there are just two days off this time – without being distracted by thoughts of the King George. It won’t be easy.
He says: “Ruby [Walsh] always summed it up when he used to ride [five-time King George winner] Kauto Star every year, and said half his mind was on racing on Boxing Day, and half is on home with his wife and his children. I’ll be the very same.”
Words which demonstrate that as well as having diplomatic skills, Daryl Jacob is probably a realist too.