The two leading contenders for the King George Chase VI, 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River and Might Bite, were caught off the pace in their opening race of the National Hunt campaign. Both horses were expected to jostle it out for the Betfair Chase crown, but they were beaten by the pace of Bristol De Mai at Haydock Park in their first outings of the new season.
Native River edged the duel between the two horses last term as he claimed the Gold Cup ahead of his rival. The Irish horse has a challenge ahead of him to retain his crown, but he will be eyeing an early victory at the King George VI Chase to give him momentum to head into Cheltenham Festival in March. Might Bite is the reigning champion for the race at Kempton and will not be willing to relinquish his title. He is striving to become one of the few horses to have won multiple races in the event, despite his setback in the opening meet of the season. Nicky Henderson’s charge is considered the leading contender in the King George race betting 2018 odds, although the nine-year-old will have to improve his form on the track.
The action at Haydock Park was Native River’s first appearance since the Gold Cup. Colin Tizzard’s charge was in fine form towards the end of the season, winning his final two races. It began at the Denman Chase before Richard Johnson rode the Irish horse to victory at Cheltenham with a brilliant performance to see off his rival by a comfortable margin of four-and-a-half lengths.
On his return to the track after an eight-month absence, it was not a surprise to see the chestnut gelding slightly short of his best. He was not fluent in his stride and struggled to regain his top speed after the 11th fence. While Native River did manage to put himself in contention for the crown, he did not quite have the surge of Bristol De Mai and was forced to settle for second place – four-and-a-half lengths off the pace off the winner. It was still a solid performance from Native River on his return, considering that it was his first appearance in the meet and at Haydock Park.
Might Bite, on the other hand, struggled immensely on his return. The Irish horse finished his campaign on a high note with a victory over Bristol De Mai at the Bowl Chase at Aintree. However, he was terrible on the track, making his first appearance since April. The nine-year-old made early headway, but as the race progressed into its latter stages he faded drastically and finished well off the pace in fifth out of five competitors.
Henderson has already expressed his concern over the performance and has conceded that he has work ahead of him to get his charge into shape for the defense of his King George VI Chase crown, along with another crack at the Gold Cup. Might Bite is still a quality horse, but his display at Haydock Park was far from encouraging.
Jason Coote is the founder of many websites and known gambler in Great Britain.