Ladbrokes King George VI Chase (Grade 1)

IT was very much Danny Mullins’s day at Kempton last Sunday, with his win on board 28/1 outsider Tornado Flyer providing him with a double on the day from just two rides.

Tornado Flyer was the neglected of the Willie Mullins pair in the market, and a significant mistake at the very first fence hardly seemed to do his chance much good, but that error may have inadvertently helped him to victory over a trio of Paul Nicholls-trained runners, headed by Clan Des Obeaux (Harry Cobden) and Saint Calvados (Gavin Sheehan), with the margins nine lengths and three and a half lengths.

Much has been made pre-race of Bryony Frost’s ride on Frodon 12 months earlier, with the race arguably stolen from the front on that occasion.

This time, she attempted identical tactics, lining up wide with a view to easing across to lead at the first, but Rachael Blackmore ensured that she couldn’t get an easy lead by sending Minella Indo forward towards the inside, with Clan Des Obeaux immediately following that pair.


The result was a stronger and more sustained pace for the first circuit, and that had a negative impact on the leaders, with Frodon doing well to finish fourth after being harried into going too fast.

Minella Indo was beaten by more than just the pace, however, weakening after jumping slowly at the 10th, and while it’s easy to blame the tactics or the track, he was one of a number of disappointments for the de Bromhead yard over Christmas, and there is clearly more to his miserable showing than the nature of the contest.

Chantry House also ran unaccountably badly having been backed into favouritism, while Asterion Forlonge would have finished a creditable second but for a tired fall at the last. Ironically, he barely touched a twig on the way around, and his fall was a result of overjumping rather than an error.

Had he stood up, it would have been a remarkable one-two for Mullins, with Nicholls training the next three home, and both of Nicky Henderson’s runners pulled up.


The winner was certainly helped by being held up in a race in which the pace failed to hold up, and that was exacerbated by Gavin Sheehan’s decision to kick before the turn on the non-staying Saint Calvados.

Plenty also pointed fingers at both Frost and Blackmore after the race, but the former was attempting the same tactics which were successful the year before, and the latter was the only rider with the guts to stop her from gaining another uncontested lead.

In doing so, she may not have helped her own chances, but there are no tactics which would have been successful on a clearly sub-par Minella Indo in any case.

Danny Mullins has become one of the most tactically astute riders in Ireland over the past few seasons, and knowing he couldn’t ‘come along without the horse’ to quote a rider of yore, he waited on his mount, ensuring he met the fences in stride, and made his move only after others had done so prematurely.

It would be dangerous to say that he judged the pace better than the others, but he was correct to nurse Tornado Flyer around in conditions which sapped energy.

Tornado Flyer’s stamina was questioned going into this, but he has often been noted doing his best work late over shorter, and although he was unplaced in the Savills Chase last season on his only previous try at three miles, he saw the race out better than most having been left poorly placed by some shoddy jumping.

It’s a lack of scope which has held him back over fences, meaning he had to find his own rhythm, and hold-up tactics don’t always show him to best effect. He finished best of all when placed in the Ryanair at Cheltenham in March, and again when a creditable fifth in the John Durkan.

Neither of those races showed him to best advantage, but everything panned out well for him at Kempton, enabling him to prove himself a top-notch performer.

Whether he gets the opportunity to express himself so fully again this season is open for debate, but we must not make the mistake of labelling this win as a fluke.

Epatante chisels out another big win

Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1)

THE Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle was a frankly underwhelming affair, with Epatante (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) gaining her second Grade 1 win since pre-season back surgery. While this was a step up on paper from sharing the spoils with Not So Sleepy in the Fighting Fifth, it was a backward step in form terms, as she appeared all out to beat the 140-rated Glory And Fortune (Tom Lacey/Stan Sheppard) and Soaring Glory (Jonjo O’Neill/Jonjo Jr) by two and a quarter lengths and a neck.

Given the runner-up had sprawled on landing at the penultimate flight, and was conceding 7lb to the 4/5 favourite, it’s hard to consider this Champion Hurdle form.

Not So Sleepy made much of the running before finishing last, but not for the first time he looked reluctant to line up, and his performance is more temperament than form-related.

He’s bounced back from mulish displays before, but is clearly not one to trust implicitly at the start.

In fairness to Epatante, she jumped very well and looked set for a wide-margin win when landing over the last, and it’s possible that she idled thereafter, but Nico de Boinville had to administer a couple of reminders to make sure of victory, and she will need to raise her game more than a notch if meeting Honeysuckle in the coming weeks and months.

Nicky Henderson seemed to be conceding as much when he said afterwards: “Epatante might be as good as she was when she won the Champion Hurdle, but the others might be better this year too. We’ve achieved our two goals, and we’ll see what happens next.”

Bravemansgame is just too slick

Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

LONG-awaited duels don’t always deliver what they might, and I suppose the Grade 1 Kauto Star might fall into that bracket after Bravemansgame (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) ran out a comfortable winner from Ahoy Senor (Lucinda Russell/Derek Fox) despite the latter being backed into favouritism before the off.

The 6/5 shot produced a more polished jumping performance as well as a superior turn of foot to make this contest look rather one-sided, but the seven-and-a-half-length runner-up looked unsuited by the track at Kempton, and I don’t think the rivalry between the pair should be put to bed prematurely.

Bravemansgame made just one minor error, when pecking at the last open ditch, but his jumping has been a joy to behold in three starts to date, and his speed from take-off to landing was the primary difference between the pair here.

An inability to find a good rhythm meant that Ahoy Senor was unable to stretch his rivals as he had when winning the Grade 2 John Francome at Newbury, or more pertinently when galloping Bravemansgame into submission in the Grade 1 Sefton Hurdle at Aintree.

Press on

That much was clear when all four runners appeared to have a chance at the first in the home straight, and while Ahoy Senor tried to press on from that point, his chief rival was hard on the bridle, and his ability to quicken in the latter stages put the race beyond doubt.

Nicholls played down talk of the Cheltenham Festival, and a rematch between the main players in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase over three miles and a furlong at Aintree would be intriguing. In the long term, a return for the King George in 12 months is uppermost in the mind of Paul Nicholls, who said: “I know the guys would like to go to Cheltenham but my target was always next year’s King George.

“If you want to get horses like Clan and Frodon to their best you need to give them time to mature. You don’t want to leave races at home.”