Kicking King defies blunder to stir Irish memories

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Irish memories were stirred and Irish pockets were filled when the 3-1 favourite Kicking King triumphed in Kempton's Stan James King George VI Chase, the highlight of the Christmas racing festival.

Kicking King, who had been coasting to victory until then, survived a horrific blunder, which brought him almost to a standstill at the last fence, and who still ran out the winner by two and a half lengths and one and a quarter lengths from Kingscliff and Azertyuiop, is trained by Tom Taaffe, whose father Pat rode the great Arkle to victory in the race in 1965 and trained Captain Christy for his consecutive victories in 1974 and 75.

Successful jockey Barry Geraghty, who waved an Irish flag as he rode into the winner's enclosure, performed a miracle to stay in the saddle after meeting the last all wrong.

The delighted trainer, who said he was "very proud for his parents", declared of the near disaster: "How the horse stood up and how Barry stayed on him I just don't know".

He added with a grin: "You always need some drama to make it a great show."

He would not say at this stage if Kicking King, who is only a six-year-old and whose jockey confirmed he made mistakes at several other fences, would go for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Although he was confidently ridden in front over the easy three miles of the flat Thameside track, an extra two furlongs over the hilly Gloucestershire course is a lot more to ask.

Tom Taaffe says that they will make the decision early in March with good going a crucial factor.

The best Cheltenham trial was run by Kingscliff, the former hunter chaser, who had been 351 days off the track.

They went a little fast for him early on and trainer Robert Alner and jockey Andrew Thornton agreed his jumping showed his lack of match practice, but Kingscliff was running on well at the finish.

Three times King George winner Desert Orchid, now 26, who started life as a two-miler, was paraded before the race. But that did not provide quite sufficient inspiration for Britain's best two-miler and highest-rated chaser Azertyuiop, whose class carried him into third place but who patently did not stay the distance in his first attempt at three miles.

Trainer Paul Nicholls was pleased with his effort but he declared: "He didn't stay. End of story. It was worth going for and Ruby [Walsh] rode him as if he would stay but he said he was running on empty when they turned into the straight. Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

There was an equally thrilling race for the Stan James Christmas Hurdle in which, with nothing else to make the pace, the former champion hurdler Rooster Booster opened up a lead of 35 lengths.

However, with confident jockey Paul Carberry waiting until the straight to close him down, this year's champion hurdle favourite Harchibald, trained by Noel Meade, cut him down before the post and won going away for another Irish victory.

Harchibald is now 3-1 favourite for the Champion Hurdle in March.

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