In a somewhat surprising move, trainer Nicky Henderson has chosen to bypass the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase and target the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day with his progressive second season chaser Riverside Theatre, writes Elliot Slater.

A winner of three of his five chase outings, (two at Kempton), Henderson’s six-year-old King’s Theatre gelding is to be asked a very serious question in trying to keep tabs on the likes of Forpadydeplasterer, Nacarat, stable companion Long Run, and most notably of all, the four-time King George winner, Kauto Star. Some might question the wisdom of pitting a relatively inexperienced horse against the best in the business at this stage of his career, but Henderson has never been frightened of taking on the big guns and feels that Riverside Theatre’s proven liking for the Sunbury circuit should stand him in good stead.

Owned by a syndicate headed by ‘Cold Feet’ star Jimmy Nesbitt, Riverside Theatre (now priced at 14/1 in the ante-post market for the race following confirmation that he is an intended runner), is rated 30lbs inferior to Kauto Star, but 2lbs superior to his stablemate Long Run, who is currently priced up by kempton horse racing odds as the 5/1 second favourite behind the 10/11 Paul Nicholls- trained superstar.

With live horse racing pundits noting that Sam Waley-Cohen wilol almost certainly riding Long Run for his father Robert in the Boxing Day spectacular, it would appear more than likely that Henderson’s stable jockey Barry Geraghty will continue his association with Riverside Theatre, a horse he partnered to victory on the Kempton Christmas card 12 months ago when winning the Grade 2 novices’ chase.

Fifth in the Arkle Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival and a faller when under pressure on his other foray into Grade 1 company in the Ryanair Novices Chase at Punchestown in April, Riverside Theatre has never raced beyond two-miles-five-furlongs, so his ability to see out a strongly run three miles at championship level has to be taken on trust.