Henderson determined not to swerve Sandown with wayward Might Bite
The horse who nearly threw away a Cheltenham Festival victory in March makes his highly anticipated return to the track this weekend
We Have A Dream was a no-nonsense winner for Nicky Henderson in the opening race here on Friday, and the trainer will be hoping for something along similar lines when Might Bite, the narrow favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, makes his first start outside novice chasing company at Sandown Park on Sunday.
Late drama was the theme of Might Bite’s first campaign over fences, both in victory and defeat. His last-fence fall when 20 lengths clear of the field in the Grade One Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton on Boxing day was as memorable in its way as Thistlecrack’s win in the King George an hour later, and there were more theatrics in the closing stages of the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. In the space of a few seconds, Might Bite had the race won, lost and then won again, as he idled almost to a standstill on the run-in before running on again to win by a nose.
“It actually shows how much ability he’s got to be able to stop, go to a standstill virtually, then turn around and get going again,” Henderson said on Friday. “He doesn’t need to do it again, but there’s nothing much we can do about it. Sandown is a tricky track like that, in that there’s a lot of daylight after the last fence, but he’s in good form and he’s ready to go.
“Sandown is the starting point, it’s not D-Day. It’s his way into the King George rather than via the Betfair [Chase at Haydock on 25 November] but you’ve got [last year’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner] Frodon in there and it’s going to be a very interesting race.”
The route to Kempton via Haydock dangles the carrot of a £1m bonus if a chaser can win the Betfair Chase, the King George and then the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, but Henderson and Might Bite’s owners resisted the temptation.
“The horse’s interest is the most important thing,” Henderson said. “The carrot is to try to get all these horses to meet at Haydock, but I don’t think it’s the right thing for him to do, to get into a big battle unless he’s very match ready.
“He has got his idiosyncrasies, if you like, and I don’t think that Haydock is the right place for him. We’ve got to mind his head a little bit and that’s why he’s not going for a dust-up with a whole heap of good horses. It’s a nicer way in for him at Sandown. Bonuses are very commendable things but they must not dictate what you do with your horses when you don’t think it’s the right thing.”
At the best available prices, Might Bite is the 7-2 favourite for the King George, half a point ahead of Thistlecrack, who has not raced since February and is due to return to action over hurdles at Newbury on 1 December. Sizing John, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, is being steered towards Haydock by Jessica Harrington and is a 5-1 chance for the King George, though he would have an alternative target in Leopardstown’s Lexus Chase were he to be beaten in the Betfair Chase and ruled out of a tilt at the bonus.
Even if Might Bite is clear approaching the last at Kempton on Boxing Day, the memory of his fall there last December will ensure that his backers are on the edge of their seats.
“It was an unfortunate incident,” Henderson says. “Most people know that it was just bad luck, they got in a bit of a muddle, but there you go. He’s a beautiful horse, with great scope and presence and that’s why it’s vital to look after him.
“He’s not fragile in any way, but we just need to look after him. He’s entertaining if nothing else. You always know that he’s got something in his pocket to surprise us with.”