Boxing Day preview: Might Bite sharpens teeth for Kempton showpiece

TWELVE months ago Might Bite had Grade One honours at Kempton at his mercy before suffering a hideous final fence fall in the Kauto Star Novices Chase.

Might Bite goes for glory at Kempton today (Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Fast forward 365 days and Nicky Henderson’s steeplechaser is a deserved favourite for the King George VI Chase – National Hunt racing’s mid-winter highlight.

And Henderson, a dual King George-winning trainer courtesy of Long Run, is confident – Might Bite has not lost since last year’s mishap.

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A confidence-boosting win at Doncaster was followed by Grade One triumphs at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals over stablemate Whisper who reopposes again.

Might Bite’s successful reappearance at Sandown last month, after swerving Haydock’s Betfair Chase because of the heavy ground, suggests the eight-year-old – owned by The Knot Again Partnership and the mount of Nico de Boinville – is the one to beat.

The worry, however, is the final fence and the horse’s tendency to wander on the run-in. “He had a nice time at Sandown and this fellow, as everybody knows, is not without idiosyncrasies,” admitted Henderson.

“When we finished last season, we all went to bed knowing the King George would be his first objective. I think the track essentially plays to his strengths in that he gets into a real, solid gallop.

“What we saw that day at Kempton last year was impressive until he fell. That pointed us in the direction of going back for the King George.

“We’re very much hoping for good ground as he is a very good mover.”

Might Bite made much of the running in his starts last season, but did take a lead for at least some of the three-mile journey at Sandown on his return.

Henderson does not feel his charge is tactically one dimensional, adding: “There will be plenty of pace and it doesn’t worry us if we don’t have to make the running.

“If he takes Nico to the front, with a horse like him you’re never going to take him back. If he wants to rock and roll, we’ll let him rock and roll. He seems a much quicker horse at home this year than he was last year.”

There’s a fascinating sub-plot – Might Bite came to grief last year under Daryl Jacob who takes the ride on the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai.

This is the horse that won Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase before turning the aforementioned Betfair Chase into a procession.

Yet, while some suggest Kempton’s right-handed configuration won’t play to Bristol De Mai’s strengths and that the flying grey needs bottomless ground, Henderson is mindful and respectful of the challenger.

“When they go in very soft ground, it is an advantage and he can jump for fun out of it,” he added. “If he goes to Kempton and it is good ground, he loses that advantage, but he’ll still be very competitive. If it is very soft, it will take a mighty one to beat him.”

Twiston-Davies is certainly up for the challenge in a race that also features last year’s winner Thistlecrack who will be looking to silence the critics after Tom Scudamore’s mount struggled for race fitness over hurdles at Newbury earlier this month.

After all, Bristol De Mai is eligible for a £1m bonus that will be paid to any horse that wins the ‘big three’ – the Betfair Chase, King George Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup – in the same season.

“We are very much looking forward to Kempton and it is where the talking ends,” he declared. “Just because he has won in heavy ground, he moves like a good ground horse and he seems to cope with most things. I think he is a very good horse.”

On the mouthwatering clash with Might Bite, Twiston-Davies added: “There is no collateral form between the two of them and we are hoping we can sort it out.

“We are absolutely blinkered on the bonus – it’s a very exciting idea. He won a good race on the bridle at Haydock and it didn’t seem to take anything out of him. You would be a fool to say it hasn’t, but you don’t notice and he is in the form of his life.”