Whisper might join Bite in King George after 'brutal left hook' from handicapper
The handicapper's "absurd" assessment of Whisper's fine second in the Ladbrokes Trophy this month could mean he joins stablemate and ante-post favourite Might Bite in the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton on December 26, trainer Nicky Henderson outlined on Tuesday.
No firm plans are in place for the Dai Walters-owned Whisper, who was second to Might Bite in the RSA and Mildmay Novices' Chase last term before being edged out by Total Recall in Newbury's Ladbrokes Trophy on his second start of the season.
That effort resulted in a 12lb rise for the nine-year-old, who is a 16-1 shot for the King George, with Might Bite heading the market at 6-4.
"The handicapper is nearly going to force Whisper to run isn't he?" Henderson said. "He's given him the most almighty clobbering. It was brutal enough getting a bruised eye being beaten in the race, but then he got a left hook from the handicapper as well.
"We were thinking Ladbrokes Trophy and then – and we were never going to say until later in the day – we were thinking we'd put him away for the National, but he's taken him out of that as well. I was also thinking of the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January, but I'll talk to Dai.
"He's come out of Newbury in great form and it was a fantastic performance, but unfortunately in my opinion the handicapper has completely killed him. He's left us with nowhere to go."
Champion trainer Henderson, a dual winner of Kempton's biggest race thanks to Long Run in 2010 and 2012, added: "Whisper might have to go to the King George, but we know he's not good enough and we know Might Bite is yards and yards and yards in front of him.
"We know what Might Bite does to him. He's done it comprehensively twice; can I seriously ask Dai to come back and do it again? The poor horse has been second to Might Bite in two Grade 1s and so nearly wins a Ladbrokes Trophy, which were three fantastic runs, but we want to go and win a race.
"It was absurd. He ran to his form and 12lb on top of the penalty of finishing second is heartbreaking."
Henderson, who also confirmed Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D'Air on course for the Unibet Christmas Hurdle, is much sweeter – although not confident – about the chances of Might Bite. The King George favourite led the trainer's string in an improvised gallop under big-race rider Nico de Boinville on the Alps-like slopes at Seven Barrows on a freezing morning when temperatures dipped to -9C.
He made a pleasing comeback in a Listed chase at Sandown last month and has a wrong to right at Kempton, having had the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at his mercy 12 months ago only to fall when clear and in the process of producing a blistering performance.
Henderson, who had contemplated giving the talented son of Scorpion a racecourse gallop, said: "He's good. He's not a horse who needs a huge amount of work. I know Nico was very, very pleased with his work on Saturday and he's got that to do this Saturday and then I'd say one more towards the end of next week.
"He seems a much sharper horse this year. He looks feisty and well and is working much better this year than he did last year. We always said Kempton would be the first objective and we'll take it from there.
"From what he was doing in the Kauto Star, if you stop it at the last it was an extraordinary performance. The place suits him and everything's right, so all we've concentrated on is getting ready for the King George."
Among the opposition to Might Bite is mud-loving Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai, in line for a £1 million bonus if he adds the King George and Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup to his Haydock triumph.
Henderson would be keen on a sound surface for Might Bite, but quicker conditions do not faze Bristol De Mai's trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
"Absolutely blinkered" on the idea of the £1m bonus, Twiston-Davies said of his 9-2 second-favourite: "He moves like a good-ground horse and seems to cope with most things. I think he's a very good horse.
"I was looking last night at the Racing Post website and his birthday is at the end of May, so all the racing he was doing last season was as a five-year-old. He's very young, so let's hope he's improving."
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