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Racing: KING RULES AGAIN; By Garry Owen who napped big race winner Kicking King (11-8) and doubled up with Feathard Lady (6-4 Champ bounces back to land big race double in a real festive cracker.

Byline: By Garry Owen

KICKING KING landed his second Stan James King George VI Chase with a thrilling victory over Monkerhostin at Sandown.

Laid low since injury saw him defeated at Haydock, Tom Taaffe slowly nursed the seven-year-old back to health.

And the trainer's patience and hard work was rewarded with success in the pounds 200,000 contest as Kicking King - still lacking something in fitness, according to Taaffe - saw off his rivals with a typically polished round of jumping.

Ollie Magern had set a good early pace and remained in front until headed by Impek just after halfway.

However, Kicking King always had the principals well in sight and loomed large on the outside before taking the lead two from home, the field having bypassed the Pond Fence on account of the low-lying sun.

The 11-8 favourite had looked likely to go on for an easy success but all the while Tom Scudamore - a late deputy for the injured Richard Johnson - was creeping closer behind the leaders on Monkerhostin (22-1And when the young rider produced Philip Hobbs' charge on the outside over the final fence, suddenly the race was back on and it tookaphoto-finishtoconfirmthe Irish raider had held on by a neck. Impek finished third.

Monkerhostin did at least have the consolation of taking the lead in the standings for the pounds 250,000 British Horseracing Board Order of Merit standings.

But the race was a disaster for Kingscliff who was sent off a well-backed second favourite having beaten Kicking King in the Betfair Chase last time out.

A bad mistake at the 10th fence with a circuit to go saw Tony Dobbin having to shake his mount right up to keep him in touch and from that point he never got back in therace,eventually being pulled up on the home turn.

William Hill offer a best price of 9-4 about Kicking King managing another back-to-back triumph when going for the Totesport Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March but Coral go just 5-4.

"I know that some people didn't think I was being truthful when I gave excuses for what happened last time at Haydock," said Taaffe.

"But it was only a few days after the race that I realised just how sore he had been and how low he was. He was very sorry and off his food.

"We waited until the last two bits of work to see if there was life there and if there wasn't we wouldn't have been here.

"The plan now is to batten down the hatches altogether until March. He definitely won't run again until then."

Geraghty hailed the winner as "a class act". He said: "They probably did not go that quick. I had hoped we'd be coming off a fast pace like in the Gold Cup and on good ground. That suits him better.

"Monkerhostin did stay on well but the ground is very dead. A better pace would have been ideal for me but my horse can jump. He's something serious.

"He's won the Gold Cup once. I can't see why he can't win another one."

Feathard Lady stormed to the forefront of the Smurfit Champion Hurdle picture as she extended her unbeaten run to seven under a peach of a ride from Ruby Walsh in the Stan James Christmas Hurdle.

Walsh never had an anxious moment on the 6-4 chance as he completed a double following the earlier success of Hoo La Baloo on his first day back from a shoulder injury.

The bookies were impressed by the stylish display of Colm Murphy's mare that she is as short as 5-1 (from 16s) for the Champion with Coral.

Murphy has the luxury of also training Brave Inca, who is set to clash with his stable companion in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on January 29.

Darkness is the new favourite for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase following his dramatic success under Tony McCoy in the Stan James Feltham Novices' Chase.

Turning for home in the pounds 70,000 contest, Darkness looked a lost cause as he was last of the five runners and being vigorously ridden as Zabenzand BewleysBerrymade the best of their wayhome But Darkness made stealthy progress after the second-last to join issue at the final obstacle and pull three lengths clear of Zabenz, who held Bewleys Berry by a head for second.

Charlie Egerton nominated Cheltenham as the next port of call for his 13-8 winner and said: "I was concerned at halfway but that's just him, he has his own style of doing things and when you think he was three lengths clear at the post it was some performance.

"He's definitely better going left-handed and will go straight to the Festival. He's already had five runs and I want to take him there fresh."

Coral slashed Darkness from 10-1 to 5s and Ladbrokes make the six-year-old a 6-1 favourite (from 8s) for the Cheltenham feature.

At Chepstow, Cornish Rebel (2.40) can land the feature Coral Welsh National.

Paul Nicholls' star finished a cracking third behind Trabolgan in the Hennessy and top weight may not stop this one getting off the mark for the season


RETURN OF THE KING: Kicking King takes the last ahead of Monkerhostin en route to a thrilling win in the King George yesterday
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 27, 2005
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