Paul Nicholls believes Politologue can provide him with a 10th victory in the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton.
It is 21 years since the Ditcheat maestro first claimed the Boxing Day highlight with dual winner See More Business.
Almost a decade later the one and only Kauto Star secured the first of his five triumphs in the race, while Silviniaco Conti won back-to-back renewals in 2013 and 2014.
Politologue has won eight times over fences, including top-level successes in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Melling Chase at Aintree.
He made a fine start to the current campaign when narrowly beating subsequent Peterborough Chase winner Charbel in a Grade Two at Ascot – but the big question ahead of his latest assignment is whether his stamina will last out over three miles.
Nicholls said: “Politologue is well. There are question marks, as he has not been over three miles, but he has been two-mile-five on stiff tracks.
“Kauto Star – who won five King Georges – had the same sort of profile, running in Haldon Gold Cups and running over two and a half.
“Kauto Star ended up getting three miles and I’m hoping Politologue will as well.
“I’m happy with him, I think he’s got a great chance and I think he will stay. I’m not going to say he’ll stay three and a quarter miles at Cheltenham, but if he is going to stay three miles it will be at Kempton.
“They always go quick in the King George, which will suit him, and it will just be a case of seeing how good he really is.”
Nicholls has a second string to his bow in Clan Des Obeaux, who was last seen finishing fourth in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
“I’m happy with Clan Des Obeaux and we know he stays,” the trainer added.
“It was a mighty run from him at Haydock. It was like going from the Championship to the Premier League in his first the game and getting used to competing in the Premier League.
“If he can improve we will be in with a shout.”
The likely favourite is last year’s winner Might Bite.
The Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old has something to prove after finishing a disappointing last of five in the Betfair Chase, having seemingly become unnerved by the stiff Haydock fences.
Henderson said: “He landed on the top of the second fence at Haydock and from there on he never got into his rhythm at all.
“In the King George last year and in the Gold Cup, he got into that rhythm where he jumps and it flows and it’s all easy. Haydock is a different racecourse these days and it found him out.
“I thought he was fit going there – his work had been absolutely excellent – but it just didn’t happen on the day. We can’t do anything about it and he came back fit and well and healthy. I think we just have to ignore it.
“He was very good in the Feltham until he fell at the last and he was very good in the King George last year, so we think he likes Kempton.”
If the King George was run at Haydock, dual Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai would surely be a warm order.
He disappointed on Boxing Day last year, but trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies thinks it could be a different story 12 months on.
He said: “He proved them all wrong at Haydock, so let’s hope he can do so again.
“He’s only seven and probably just coming to his best now. He’s been an exceptional horse all his life when he’s been absolutely right. He’s always had excuses when he’s been beaten, this year everything has been perfect.
“Last year he made a mistake (in the King George) and that put paid to his chance.
“It puts me much more at ease (not being favourite) – I love it. We won the Gold Cup when no one fancied us (with Imperial Commander), when we won the Betfair no one fancied us and if no one fancies us this time, great.”
Colin Tizzard’s Native River saw off Might Bite in a stirring renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and made a perfectly satisfactory comeback when runner-up to Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase.
Tizzard also saddles 2016 King George hero Thistlecrack, who was third at Haydock on his first start in nearly a year.
“We’ve had no issues whatsoever. They both came out of Haydock well and they seem to be in lovely form,” said the Dorset handler.
“Both horses will have benefited from the run at Haydock and I couldn’t wish them to be in better order.
“Native River has improved as he has been going and he’s a completely different horse to when he last ran at Kempton (third in 2015 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase). I don’t think the track will make any difference.
“Thistlecrack is a a World Hurdle and King George winner. We think he is dead right and it would be no surprise to us if he was to win it.
“You can’t take away that Native River is a Gold Cup winner, but Thistlecrack has won several Grade One races.
“It would be lovely if one of them won and they are both set for big runs.”
Waiting Patiently would be a popular winner for Ruth Jefferson. The seven-year-old proved himself a top-class performer when readily accounting for Cue Card in February’s Ascot Chase, but he has not been seen in competitive action since.
Jefferson said: “All is well and we’ll just have to see if we can break the statistics or not. I was reading somewhere that only two horses have tried to win the King George first time out and one finished second and the other finished third.
“I’ve been happy with our horse ever since he came back from his summer break, to be honest, but I wasn’t going to force the issue and force him into a race if he wasn’t ready.
“We knew with the dry summer and autumn we’ve had it would take the rain a while to get into the ground anyway and there haven’t been that many races for him. I wasn’t going to force him into something like the Betfair Chase.
“Everything else has had a run and we haven’t, so it’s not going to be easy, but I think he deserves his place in the field.”
Double Shuffle was beaten just a length into second place when 50-1 last year and is likely to be similarly big odds this season.
Trainer Tom George said: “His run at Aintree the other day (second in Many Clouds Chase) will have put him spot on.
“He loves Kempton and the ground should be right for him. He’ gone close to winning it. Let’s hope for a big run.”
Mark Bradstock’s 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree and the Jane Williams-trained Tea For Two complete the field.