Paul Nicholls is finding it difficult to split Clan Des Obeaux and Cyrname ahead of their rematch in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Cyrname was the red-hot favourite for the festive highlight last season off the back of inflicting a first defeat over jumps on Altior at Ascot the previous month, but had a tough race there and was ultimately no match for Clan Des Obeaux, who successfully defended his King George crown.
Cyrname looked back to his best when making a successful start to the current campaign in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, however, while Clan Des Obeaux can be expected to be cherry-ripe after finishing second to Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Nicholls said: “I have been very pleased with Clan Des Obeaux since Haydock. He did have a hard race (in the Betfair Chase). It was more testing ground than we would have liked liked, but he was very fit going into the race, which helps.
“Any horse who wins two King Georges is a very good horse. He hasn’t performed at Cheltenham, so he may be a little underrated, but if he went and won a third King George that would be special. He is very good around Kempton and that’s what we are focusing on.
“I definitely don’t think Cyrname was anywhere near his best last year. If Cyrname turns up on his A-game, as he was in the Charlie Hall, then it will be very interesting race and Clan might have to put in a personal best.
“Cyrname has had a great prep, come out of that race (at Wetherby) well and looks fantastic – I am very, very happy. We are in a completely different place to where we were last year.
“It will be a lot closer and different to last year, that’s for sure. I think it will be a very interesting race and it will be one hell of a job to split them.”
Nicholls, who has won the King George a record 11 times, could have as many as four runners this year, with Real Steel and Frodon also set to take their chance in the three-mile Grade One.
Frodon was disappointing on his latest outing in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree, while Real Steel – sixth in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup for Willie Mullins – finished third in a Grade Two at Ascot on his first start for Nicholls last month.
“It just didn’t work out for Frodon at Aintree,” Nicholls added.
“He has come out of the race fine, it is just a matter of freshening him up. There is not much else to run him in, so we will let him take his chance and Mr Vogt (owner) would love to have a runner in the King George.
“Real Steel as come of his Ascot race well, he needed the run and he will improve for it.
“I think three miles is probably his trip. You would have to say he is playing for places on all known form, but he will give a good account of himself.”