"He likes to say 'look at me'," Nicky Henderson said of Might Bite after the King George VI Chase at Kempton, and it seems that a horse with a reputation for melodrama no longer needs to shout.
While Might Bite idled after the last and allowed Double Shuffle, a 50-1 chance, to within a length at the line, this was as polished and professional as he has ever been. The question now is whether he can also resist the urge to ham it up on the hill at Cheltenham in March.
If so his new price of 6-1 for the Gold Cup, for which he is second-favourite behind Sizing John, could look very generous, though Henderson and Nico de Boinville, his jockey, have long since learned to take nothing for granted where Might Bite is concerned.
Twice in the past Might Bite has jumped the last at Cheltenham and then veered sharply rights towards the exit from the course, seemingly happy that he has done enough. If he tries to do it for a third time on March 16th, De Boinville should at least be ready for him.
Even the final fence here was cleared without incident, banishing the memory of last year’s Kauto Star Novice Chase, when Might Bite fell at the last when 20 lengths clear of his field. Instead, it was Might Bite’s main opponents who found various ways to beat themselves.
Fox Norton, who was running over three miles for the first time, was pulled up before the third-last after weakening suddenly not long after starting the final mile.
Bristol De Mai, the second-favourite, made a few uncharacteristic mistakes on the first circuit and was also a spent force before the fourth-last turn out of the back on the second circuit, while Thistlecrack, last year’s King George winner, ran better than he had on his return to action this month without ever threatening to trouble the favourite.
Whisper, a stable-companion of the winner, was also beaten a long way out.
That left Might Bite and De Boinville in a dominant position on the turn for home, several lengths clear of Double Shuffle and another outsider, Tea for Two, with just three fences to jump. Whether Might Bite was tiring in the final quarter-mile, or simply idling in front as De Boinville suggested, may be a cause for debate in the run-up to the Festival, but the jockey was in little doubt. “I think he would have gone again if something had come to me,” he said. “You don’t jump the last like he did if you’re a tired horse.”
Sizing John, last year’s Gold Cup winner, is a probable runner in the Grade One Christmas Chase at Leopardstown on Thursday. Yorkhill, also a possible runner in the same race, is the only other horse at a single-figure price for the Festival, so Might Bite seems sure to be the leading British-trained contender for a race that has gone to Ireland in three of the past four seasons.
“We have our little scheme, which is to try not to press before the last,” Henderson said. “If you don’t let him know that it is the last, then you can go for your life after it. I could see that Nico was on a good stride a long way out from it. What happened here last year was just one of those things and it didn’t happen again today.
“The question now is what do we do next? We’ll probably have another run but it won’t be a slog in a bog, wherever it is, and if it froze up until March that wouldn’t bother me. Now he has just got to behave himself at Cheltenham. It’s a different ball game and he will probably want to go right after the last.”
Henderson completed a Grade One double on the day thanks to Buveur D’Air’s bloodless success at 2-11 in the Christmas Hurdle, and last year’s Champion Hurdle winner is the narrow favourite to retain his title at 15-8, ahead of Faugheen, the 2016 winner, on 9-4.
Black Corton, meanwhile, is a 20-1 chance for the RSA Chase after winning for the sixth time in seven starts for Bryony Frost in the Kauto Star Novice Chase. Frost, who was making her debut at Grade One level, is only the second female riding to win at the highest level in Britain following the success of Lizzie Kelly on Tea For Two in the same race two year ago.
“This little horse started off just an average little chap at the back of the class, but now he’s an A-star student,” Frost said. “It is a little bit awesome. Today, I’ve made a memory.” – Guardian report