Ladbrokes King George VI Chase (Grade 1)
BRAVEMANSGAME has long been considered an ideal candidate for the King George by trainer Paul Nicholls, and the seven-year-old justified that opinion with an impressive victory over Royale Pagaille (Venetia Williams/Tom Scudamore) in the Christmas highlight.
A facile winner of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase over the course and distance 12 months ago, he returned to Kempton to take what was essentially his big target for the season, for all the Gold Cup immediately beckons.
The sound-jumping Bravemansgame has yet to fire at Cheltenham, so it’s hardly surprising that Nicholls should have him fully prepared for this mid-season championship.
Despite his credentials, Bravemansgame was relegated to second-favourite in the betting behind L’Homme Presse and returned at an SP of 11/4.
The winner typically jumped soundly, although was not helped in the early stages by being forced wide by the favourite’s tendency to jump to his left.
The 2020 winner Frodon made much of the running before tiring on the home turn, and from that point the race boiled down to a tussle between the market leaders.
Bravemansgame had just got the better of the argument when L’Homme Presse landed steeply and unseated Charlie Deutsch at the last fence, leaving his stablemate Royale Pagaille to finish second, some 14 lengths adrift of the winner, with the gallant Frodon plugging on for third, a further four and a quarter lengths behind.
This was a remarkable 13th win in the King George for Paul Nicholls, who has previously been successful with See More Business (twice), Kauto Star (five times), Silviniaco Conti (twice), Clan Des Obeaux (twice) and Frodon.
Royale Pagaille ran well on his belated return and was merely undone for speed, while Frodon needs no excuses. Ahoy Senor jumped better than he had at either Wetherby or Aintree, but he failed to run any better than in the Many Clouds despite that and has something to prove for all he bounced back from a disappointment at this meeting last year.
The question now for the winner is whether he has improved enough as a chaser to believe he can win a Gold Cup. Paul Nicholls will be encouraged by what he’s seen of his main rivals both here and with what happened in and before the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, so there is little doubt that Bravemansgame will make a bid for jumping’s Blue Riband.
He was a controversial non-runner in the Brown Advisory won by L’Homme Presse from Ahoy Senor last March, and was beaten by those two horses at Aintree, having also been beaten at those two festivals as a novice hurdler.
He is clearly harder on himself than some easy wins have suggested, and Nicholls will be sure to take him to Cheltenham as fresh as possible.
It’s also to be determined whether Bravemansgame is a true stayer beyond three miles, but for all Kempton has a reputation as a sharp track, it does encourage truly run races at the trip, and non-stayers are ruthlessly exposed.
It may be that the extra quarter mile at Cheltenham is too much for the winner, but he did more than enough here to confirm that stamina is not a weak point at the highest level. All told, there are questions to answer, but he merits the opportunity to answer them affirmatively.
Winning jockey Harry Cobden admitted he failed to fully appreciate his previous win as a teenager aboard Clan Des Obeaux in 2018, but was delighted to enjoy the experience again, paying tribute to his winning mount, who had to overcome difficulties to succeed, saying:
“He was a bit behind the bridle and L’Homme Presse kept jumping across us which wasn’t ideal, and we were getting carried out. I didn’t want to get him amongst it. Although we went the furthest route, and we were getting a bit of hassle off the other one sometimes it is best to keep it simple.
“I knew he was going to be the one to beat turning in so I thought we would get a lead off him as long as possible. I then tried to pin him down the inside a bit so he couldn’t take us right across the track. He is a fantastic horse, and it is a great day.”