Best Mate is to tackle three miles for the first time in the £150,000 Pertemps King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, it has been revealed today. Trainer Henrietta Knight announced the bold decision to go straight for the mid-season three-mile championship, after talks with owner Jim Lewis.

It had been mooted that the highly-rated six-year-old would try the longer trip for the first time in the Future Stars Chase over an extended three miles at Sandown on Friday. That plan has now been scrapped. "He'll go for the King George, the Sandown race is too close to Kempton," said the Wantage trainer. "It is an easy three miles at Kempton. If he is not going to get the trip there he is not going to get it anywhere. And it will tell us which direction we will go at Cheltenham."

Best Mate is 7-2 second favourite with Coral for the Christmas spectacular. The favourite at 13-8 is last year's winner, the French-trained First Gold. He was third on his seasonal debut over hurdles at Newbury on Saturday. And the sponsors go 9-1 Best Mate for the Tote Gold Cup over three miles two-and-a-quarter furlongs at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Jim Culloty, who rode Best Mate at Ascot and when he landed an impressive win at Exeter on his only other previous start this season, faces a race against time to be fit for Kempton after breaking a bone in his arm at Taunton last week. Knight said: "There is a slender possibility that Jim will be fit to ride, but if not we will see if Tony McCoy is available. He rides a lot for Jim (Lewis)."

Filed by John Raftery