King George VI: Can Al Ferof bring Paul Nicholls more success?

Al Ferof

I'm dreaming of a grey Christmas, just like the ones I used to know, when Desert Orchid won the King George VI Chase four times in five years between 1986 and 1990.

Grey-coloured Al Ferof is one of two runners for Paul Nicholls in this year's festive feature race.

The trainer has had more success in the King George than anyone else - Kauto Star won it a record five times while See More Business was first on two occasions - and could be celebrating again with Al Ferof.

Seemingly one of last season's brightest young chasing stars and a good winner at Cheltenham in November 2012, the eight-year-old's much-anticipated progress was halted by injury.

However, the message from the Nicholls camp was that, although the setback was disappointing, the problem was a short-term one and there was no reason why he shouldn't pick up where he left off.

A bloodless, winning return in a two-horse race at Ascot this November showed the well-being of the gelding, who finally gets the chance to tackle the big three-mile Kempton prize.

On board will be Nicholls's number one jockey Daryl Jacob, who will be wearing the silks of businessman John Hales.

They have already been carried to King George victory by two-time winner One Man - also grey - in 1995 and 1996.

In-form Noel Fehily is all set to ride Silviniaco Conti, the Nicholls team's other runner.

Pressed on which of the pair he prefers, Nicholls was undecided.

"I'd have a job to split them to be honest," he said. "You wouldn't be surprised if either one of them won. If you asked me which one to put a tenner on, I wouldn't know.

"Al Ferof's got a question mark about the three miles but only because he hasn't been that far. But I don't see that being an issue.

"I think the track will suit Conti. I was nervous when it was dry because he's a real stayer so the rain that's about will slow it down and help him."

Unsurprisingly, away from his own runners, Nicholls has most respect for Cue Card and Dynaste, the two that filled the first two berths in front of Silviniaco Conti at Haydock in November.

Cue Card, trained by Colin Tizzard and the mount of his jockey son Joe, has gained successes at this year's Cheltenham Festival and then at Haydock.

But doubts in the back of the minds of the horse's growing number of fans will revolve around a disappointing effort in the last King George and the current quiet run of the Tizzard team.

Dynaste's jockey, Tom Scudamore, is quietly confident the David Pipe-trained runner - as it happens, also grey - can find the four-and-a-half lengths required to turn the tables on Cue Card.

Last year, Dynaste won the Kauto Star Feltham Novices Chase, staged over the King George distance and on the same card, in a particularly good time.

Meanwhile, Long Run, the mount of amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, is a two-time winner and should never be under-estimated, especially with the recent rain.

For the first time, he wears a visor to aid concentration and odds of around 12-1 could be too tempting to be ignored by each-way backers.

Throw in former runner-up in Riverside Theatre, the Peterborough Chase winner, and, from Ireland, Punchestown's champion novice chaser Mount Benbulben, and we have a truly intriguing clash.

The appearance of Al Ferof and Dynaste apart, there's nothing grey about this line-up.

There will be coverage of the William Hill King George VI Chase (Kempton, 26 December, 15:10 GMT) and all the other Boxing Day racing news on BBC Radio 5 live and via the BBC Sport website