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Tornado Flyer springs King George surprise for Danny and Willie Mullins

Willie Mullins gets better of Paul Nicholls in Christmas showpiece.

Tornado Flyer ridden by Danny Mullins on the way to victory.
Tornado Flyer ridden by Danny Mullins on the way to victory.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

TORNADO FLYER SHOCKED his rivals as he triumphed as a 28-1 outsider in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.

Trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by his nephew Danny, Tornado Flyer came home nine lengths clear of dual winner Clan Des Obeaux, while Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo and 3-1 favourite Chantry House failed to fire.

Sporting first-time cheekpieces, Minella Indo was noticeably keen in the early stages for Rachael Blackmore, going toe to toe with renowned front runner and last year’s King George victor Frodon, with the duo setting a strong early gallop.

Blackmore eventually took a pull, with Frodon allowed to dictate before Minella Indo again challenged going out onto the second circuit. However, it was clear from some way out the Irish raider would not be taking a hand in the finish as he dropped away. Chantry House, meanwhile, was pulled up with six fences still to jump after never really finding his stride.

Saint Calvados, one of three for Paul Nicholls along with Frodon and Clan Des Obeaux, went for home going strongly but his run started to stutter in the straight, just as Tornado Flyer and his stablemate Asterion Forlonge loomed large.

Tornado Flyer grabbed the lead at the penultimate fence and with Asterion Forlonge crashing out at the last, Clan Des Obeaux was left in second with Saint Calvados third and Frodon plugging on for fourth.

The winning rider was completing a double on the day, having struck earlier on Jacamar on what was his first trip to Kempton.

He said: “Winning a King George is something you dream about. You look at the likes of Kauto Star and the other horses that have won it. For Tornado Flyer to go and put in a performance like that is magic.

“I got into a good position early and he travelled into the race very well. I just wanted to keep saving a bit as it’s a long way down the straight here and thankfully I had a willing partner, which is what it’s all about.

“I knew I wasn’t out of it – I was cautiously optimistic that he’d run a good race. On the best of his form it’s in there and when he gets it all together he’s a proper good horse. He’s proved that today in such a competitive race.

“I was hopeful he’d stay and any time you’re riding for Willie in a race like this you have a right chance.

“You look at everything the Mullins’ have achieved, I’m delighted to be part of the family.”

Epatante regained her Christmas Hurdle crown in style as she came home clear in the Kempton Grade One.

epatante-ridden-by-nico-de-boinville-going-on-to-win-the-ladbrokes-christmas-hurdle-during-king-george-vi-chase-day-of-the-ladbrokes-christmas-festival-at-kempton-park-picture-date-sunday-december-2 Epatante goes on to win the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Nicky Henderson’s charge landed the prize in 2019 before going on to Champion Hurdle glory the following spring, but she suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Silver Streak last term and could finish only third at Cheltenham in March.

The mare underwent back surgery over the summer and having dead-heated with the reopposing Not So Sleepy in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last month, she made sure of outright victory here under Nico de Boinville.

Epatante (4-5 favourite) stepped up to challenge Not So Sleepy with three to jump and the result hardly looked in doubt from that point onwards.

She just had to gallop out to the line, prevailing by two and a quarter lengths from staying-on 28-1 shot Glory And Fortune.

Henderson was delighted to see Epatante back on form.

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He said: “She is quick and all about speed. We expected to get a lead a lot longer than we did, but when she’s on her A-game and jumping like that, why stop her?

“It’s the first time Nico has ridden her and he did the right thing. Not So Sleepy might have been a bit like that today and her jumping was taking her to the front, so let her stride on.

“What you could see there is her jumping is back together again – she’s so slick through the air. I think that (back operation) has changed the game quite significantly.”

Henderson admits his mare may ultimately end up at Cheltenham, he thinks connections have difficult decisions to make.

He added: “We set out at the beginning of the year with two goals – the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle. Those were her two Champion Hurdles, if you like – and we’ve got one and a half out of two!

“What happens next, we’ll have to see. We’ve got difficult days ahead and difficult decisions to make. She’s still a very good mare, but so is Honeysuckle.

“That was a Champion Hurdle performance today. It’s another bridge when you get there, but I suspect that’s where we’re going to finish up.”

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