Twenty one years after Florida Pearl's victory in the King George at Kempton, Willie Mullins won the Christmas showpiece for a second time with Tornado Flyer causing an upset. The 28/1 outsider, who was a Grade 1 winner as a bumper horse, was tackling the trip for only the second time (well beaten in the Savills Chase this time last year). Given a patient ride by Danny Mullins, that proved the key with the eight year old coming off a suidical early pace. A nine lengths winner, he appeared to be holding stablemate Asterion Forlonge when that rival hit the deck for the fourth time during his chasing career.
Fair play to the winner who is an admirable horse who has been competing at the highest level throughout his career but one can't help feeling that Paul Nicholls will have travelled home on Sunday evening a frustrated figure. There is reason to believe that none of his jockey's excelled - last year's winner Frodon went too hard in front and became embroiled in a duel from the outset with Minella Indo, Clan Des Obeaux got involved too soon down the backstraight on the final circuit, while Saint Calvados was produced far too earlier. The last named appeared a non stayer twelve months ago and yet his jockey rode him into contention soon after the fourth last.
Minella Indo, who wore cheekpieces for the first time, wasn't given a very intelligent ride either as he tried to go head to head with the aforementioned Frodon, while Chantry House was cruelly exposed following a series of mistakes before being pulled up some way from home.
Earlier on the card, Bravemansgame made it three wins from as many starts over fences with an imperious display in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase. Third over hurdles at Cheltenham last spring, he has improved since sent chasing and had too much speed for old rival Ahoy Senor. Paul Nicholls is already eyeing next year's King George for the winner. I wouldn't write off the runner-up yet even though he was put firmly in his place. Derek Fox's mount failed to get into a rhythm and was guessy at a number of his fences. A return to a left handed galloping track will see him in a much better light. The winner is a class act though with speed and stamina.
The Top 40 Prospects had three runners on Boxing Day and they produced a winner, runner-up and faller. French import Henn See produced a gutsy display to win a two miles maiden hurdle at Limerick having been briefly headed. A staying type, the four year old will improve as the season progresses and over much further. Black Poppy ran well in the opening novice hurdle at Kempton but was no match for the easy winner Broomfield Burg. One can only assume the owners want a day out at the Sunbury track because he is offically rated 112 compared to Nicky Henderson's victor who lined up off a mark of 134. The five year old would have taken a fair bit of beating in a 0-115 or 0-120 handicap. His connections now face an anxious wait to see how much the assessor raises him. From a personal point of view, the trend was set for the day when another French recruit State Man ended up on the floor at the second last in the two miles maiden hurdle at Leopardstown. Heavily supported beforehand, Willie Mullins' four year old was travelling strongly at the time.
Talking of Broomfield Burg, it is possible Nicky Henderson will be thinking in terms of the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury (12th February). A keen going sort, he will be suited by a strong early gallop and novices have won 9 of the last 12 renewals of the two miles event.
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