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Thistle looks a cracker in defence of the King George

 

By Anita Chambers

Thistlecrack has plenty of questions to answer, but he can rise to the challenge and defend his 32Red King George VI Chase title at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Colin Tizzard's nine-year-old made quite the splash in his first campaign over fences last year, winning three novice chase before stepping up in style to claim an impressive verdict in the three-mile festive showpiece.

While it was perhaps not a vintage renewal, Thistlecrack jumped for fun and won by an eased-down three and a quarter lengths, looking for all the world a true Gold Cup contender.

However, the wheels came off next time out when he was beaten just a head by the ill-fated Many Clouds in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, after what was an epic battle in testing ground.

Thistlecrack subsequently suffered a season-ending tendon injury and certainly seemed in need of the run when only fifth over hurdles at Newbury on his return at the beginning of the month.

He raced well for much of the way before he ran out of gas, but the outing should have had the desired effect and he now seems a bit of value in the face of strong favourite Might Bite.

Buveur D'Air will definitely not be much of a price in the Unibet Christmas Hurdle but he is the undoubted star of the show.

While quicker ground would be better for him, he has won in more testing conditions in the past and his class should ultimately tell.

Ballyoptic scuppered his chances of winning at Cheltenham last month with a last-fence blunder and can make amends in the best possible fashion in the 32Red Kauto Star Novices' Chase.

The seven-year-old was a Grade One winner at Aintree in 2016 and he certainly looked likely to make into a decent novice chase prospect when winning at Exeter in November, beating Elegant Escape by 13 lengths in the process.

He then clashed with Black Corton at Prestbury Park, appearing likely to make a real race of it before getting the final obstacle all wrong and eventually being beaten four lengths.

Ballyoptic's jumping, even over hurdles, can be a bit hit and miss, but Nigel Twiston-Davies is sure to have put plenty of work in on the schooling ground and it could pay to keep the faith.

Delusionofgrandeur is the pick in Wetherby's 188Bet Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase after claiming a bloodless victory at Catterick - where he thrives - last month, while Cyclop can finally come good in the Clugston Lincolnshire National Handicap Chase at Market Rasen.

The first day of Leopardstown's Christmas meeting features a cracking renewal of the Racing Post Novice Chase, which is due to star Footpad and Death Duty.

Preference is for the first-named who was quick enough to place in last year's Champion Hurdle and delivered a fine performance when winning on his fencing bow.

While Death Duty is out of the top drawer, he might be caught for toe against Willie Mullins' runner.

MORE RACING: Pages 35-37

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