King George 2018: Nicky Henderson big guns among a host of stars set to light up the Christmas period over jumps

King George 2018: Nicky Henderson big guns among a host of stars set to light up the Christmas period over jumps

The champion trainer has an embarrassment of riches as he gears up for Kempton’s big Boxing Day bash.

Henderson, 68, has the jolly in each of the three Grade 1 races at the Sunbury track.

Might Bite is back to defend his crown in the King George and is tops 5-2 with the bookies.

Santini will try to keep his unbeaten record over fences intact when he tackles the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

That race has a rich history, as does the Christmas Hurdle which is the aim for top-class hurdler Buveur D’Air.

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He was an easy winner first time out, but it was a different story for Might Bite who's comeback in the Betfair Chase was a car crash.

His jumping fell apart that day, and his connections blamed his flop on the size and stiffness of Haydock’s fences.

But he fencing was mustard when winning the King George 12 months ago and Henderson is hoping the return to Kempton can help the horse rediscover his mojo.

He said: "He wasn't earth shatteringly impressive last year, but he jumped his way to the front and when he does that we just let him bowl away.

“He thoroughly enjoyed himself. He loved the track the year before as well in the Kauto Star until the last fence when he fell.

"He didn't enjoy the other day at Haydock very much. There was a very good picture of him jumping the second fence which was the biggest one on the track.

“It flummoxed him and he just landed on the top of it.

"He lost all rhythm and when you saw him round Kempton and Cheltenham the whole thing flowed.

“He never got into a rhythm at Haydock and it's a different track these days. I'm not blaming that – he should have done it but he didn't.

“Bristol De Mai was the one that jumped well and he deserved to win.
"He has schooled well since – he just wants to get his confidence back a bit."

One horse who Might Bite does not have to fear is his brilliant two-miler Altior, who was among the early entries but not declared for the big one.

Henderson added: "I just think trying to go three miles at this stage would be the wrong moment."

If Altior were to take his chance in the 2019 King George, he could line up alongside his exciting stable companion Santini.

The giant six-year-old is well-fancied for the Grade 1 formerly known as the Feltham earlier on the Boxing Day card.

He was foot-perfect on his chasing debut at Newbury, and the runner-up from that race has since won pulling a cart at Doncaster.

The three-mile heat always attracts stars of the future, and Henderson believes Santini is destined for the very top.

Five more Christmas crackers to keep an eye out for…

Mengli Khan – Exciting novice chaser made a winning start over fences at Punchestown. He had some high-class form over hurdles and is Ireland’s big hope for the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival. He runs in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day.

Next Destination – Another exciting young chaser, Willie Mullins’ runner goes at Limerick in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase on Boxing Day. He will be having his first start since winning a Grade 1 at Punchestown in April.

Footpad – Last year’s Arkle hero will look to put a shock defeat behind him at Leopardstown on 27 December. He fell when already beaten on his comeback but will likely be a red-hot favourite for the Paddy Rewards Club Chase.

Kalashnikov – Won the Betfair Hurdle and finished second in the Supreme last season and is now 2-2 over fences. He will be the star turn in the Wayward Lad Novices Chase at Kempton on 27 December.

Elegant Escape – Had some top form as a novice chaser last campaign and ran a cracker to finish second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury last time out. He looks a massive contender for the Welsh National at Chepstow.

He said: "I thought he was very good at Newbury, as I didn't think he was ready. I didn't want to go three miles first time out.

"I thought he would get tired, the ground was very soft and I had every excuse written on paper before we started.

"He actually warmed to it. The first part of the race was schooling and the second part was racing.

"He is a beautiful big horse – a very good-moving horse.

“He should enjoy Kempton. He never looked like a hurdler and anything he did last season gave us a lot of pleasure."

Henderson's banker treble is rounded off by the reigning champion hurdler Buveur D’Air, who chases back-to-back Christmas Hurdles.

The seven-year-old brushed young pretender Samcro aside when winning the Fighting Fifth in a canter earlier this month.

He is already odds-on for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and is unlikely to be a working man's price at Kempton.

Henderson was wowed by the gelding’s victory at Newcastle and he thinks there is still more to come.

He said: "That was an incredible performance in the Fighting Fifth. There is still so much more improvement in him.

"I thought it was very smooth and very slick. He looked like a true champion."

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