Irish jockey Noel Fehily is in confident mood as Silviniaco Conti prepares to defend his crown in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton.
The Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old wore down Cue Card in an attritional renewal of the St Stephen's Day highlight 12 months ago and arguably returns to the Sunbury venue in even better form.
Although he ran below expectations on his seasonal reappearance in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, Silviniaco Conti bounced back to win his second Betfair Chase at Haydock last month and Fehily believes his big-race mount is at the top of his game.
“It was a very good performance in the Betfair and if he reproduces something like that, hopefully he goes there with a big chance,” said Fehily.
“I wasn’t disappointed with his run at Wetherby at all, the ground was a lot quicker than everyone said it was – he felt great and jumped great, he turned in and the two-and-a-half-mile horses just came by him very quickly and he got a bit tired.
“There were plenty of positives to take out of the run and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a bit sharp for him on that ground and he maybe just needed the run. He soon put that behind him and it was probably nearly his career-best performance at Haydock.”
Silviniaco Conti heads a formidable three-pronged assault on the festive feature for the champion trainer, who has won the King George a record eight times. Al Ferof, the mount of Sam Twiston-Davies, finished a distant third in last year’s renewal, but Nicholls believes his charge returns in much better health. The flying grey certainly looked the part on his return to action in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot.
Nicholls said: “For whatever reason he seems to be much better in himself this year than he was last year, he had a few problems, ulcers.
“He wasn’t beaten too far in the Ryanair and I don’t think he was at his best last spring. I just thought he jumped left and was a little bit lethargic. I don’t think the twice he’s run at three miles he’s been at his best.
“On his Ascot run you’d say he was a different horse as he hadn’t been in that long, so he’s bound to have improved. From my point of view, that was his best ever run over fences as the form has worked out.
“If it’s not too soft he could be a different proposition this year. He has got to prove he stays three miles, but at his best he might well do. He’s by Dom Alco, so you’d think he would.
will partner Nicholls-trained outsider Wonderful Charm in a declared field of ten runners.
It is nine years since an Irish winner last claimed King George glory with Tom Taaffe’s dual winner Kicking King and Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever carries the hopes of a nation this time around