Bookmakers are taking a miserly approach over the likelihood of an historic fourth successive victory for Kauto Star in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton tomorrow.
Having learned from the lessons of the past three years, Ladbrokes are happy to be playing the part of Scrooge rather than Santa this Christmas.
“For three years we’ve got it wrong as we’ve always gone top price Kauto Star. We are reasonably determined not to get it wrong a fourth time,” said their spokesman David Williams.
“We have had our Boxing Day fingers burned once too often so we are bottom price. The race doesn’t look as strong as last year, the horse seems better than he was last year and logic dictates that the race is at his mercy.
“And we think a lot of the horses will be ridden for the substantial place money. Why not? He looks absolutely irresistible.
“This is his time of year, it’s his track, both Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh have come out and given glowing reports.
“Of the others, well even if Madison du Berlais ran to his very best Kauto would have to under-perform and if Imperial Commander was ever going to beat him it would have been at Haydock.
“Kauto would seriously have to under-perform and something like Madison would have to put up a massive career-best and then we might be in with a chance but even then we’re struggling.
“Kauto Star is the public horse of our time in jumps racing and punters will wake up on Boxing Day with their Christmas hangovers and he will drive them into the shops.
“We’re not exactly paying out yet but the money is ready and waiting.”
Neal Wilkins, of Victor Chandler, also believes Kauto Star is close to being a certainty.
“We think only an act of God can stop him,” he said.
“The only thing we thought might is when they take the covers off there will be so much moisture in the ground that it could make the ground testing and possibly put his jumping under pressure.
“Otherwise we can’t see him getting beat. The last three years he’s had the race won before they’ve turned into the straight. He broke Albertas Run when winning by eight lengths and that horse’s form absolutely collapsed afterwards until he came back and won at Ascot two runs ago.
“We think Kauto is a machine and Kempton is made for him. You can pick holes with the others. Looking at all the form we are praying for a miracle to get the horse beat and that’s not something you want to see happen as he’s a public hero.”
Wilkins picks out the Queen’s Barbers Shop as the possible dark horse in the race.
“He didn’t quite get home in the Gold Cup last season and again in the Hennessy he’s there in the shake-up but by two out his chance as gone,” he went on.
“I think three miles could be tailor-made for him. He’s got a lot to find in the ratings but he could be the value and he hasn’t got a lot of mileage on the clock.
“But Kauto Star has been backed virtually to the exclusion of everything else and victory for him would mean getting on for a six-figure loser for us.
“There will be opposition to him because of the ground factor and I think he’ll touch 4-6 if not better.”
Coral, however, do feel the hot favourite may be beatable and are taking him on.
“Kauto Star has by far the best form in the book, a perfect record at Kempton to boot, and represents a stable that is firing in big-race winners every weekend but that does not mean he is invincible,” said their spokesman Simon Clare.
“This looks a much stronger King George than last year and Imperial Commander, in particular, looks a major threat to Kauto Star in his bid for the four-timer. It’s all about the price but at 8-13 we are happy to take Kauto Star on.”