Paul Nicholls is heading to Kempton on Boxing Day with four live chances in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase – but he still does not think it is his strongest ever team.
Given Nicholls has claimed the Christmas highlight a record 11 times, he knows exactly what it takes to win, however, in five-times hero Kauto Star he has already had the perfect horse for the race.
Clan Des Obeaux will line up looking for a third win, though, while last year’s runner-up Cyrname is arriving having had an easier preparation. Frodon and Real Steel also represent Nicholls and would likely be leading contenders at most other yards.
“I don’t know if I can say this is my strongest hand – that would have been any year I had Kauto Star running for me, because he was virtually unbeatable!” said Nicholls.
“I’ve got the first and second favourites who both have great form at the track and the other two – it’s a great team of horses to have, I’m very lucky.
“People always ask me what I think and I tell the truth, I don’t think there’s anything between Clan and Cyrname.
“Clan is the defending champ, he’s won two and you do get horses winning multiple King Georges. To win three would be brilliant, but Cyrname has a good record around Kempton and is in a completely different place compared to last year.
“The other two, on all known form, are running for place money. You never know in racing, but I think Frodon and Real Steel have got it all on to beat Clan and Cyrname.
“I don’t think there’s much between Cyrname and Clan. Clan has the advantage as he has such a great track record and has won the last two, so it will be very interesting.”
A little extra spice was added to the race on Monday when Nicky Henderson supplemented Gold Cup runner-up Santini. With Gold Cup third and fourth Lostintranslation and Monalee in the field, there is plenty of strength in depth.
“A lot of them ran well in the Gold Cup, they are the best chasers in the land, but Kempton is a completely different track to Cheltenham. Clan is way better at Kempton, but it swings the other way for other horses,” said Nicholls.
“Possibly it is sharp enough for Santini, but he’s a high-class horse, as is Lostintranslation, but he disappointed in this last year and at Haydock. If they all turn up on their A game, it’s a very good race.
“Cheltenham doesn’t suit Clan, just like Silviniaco Conti. If he won a third King George, I’m sure he’d get a bigger fan club than he’s got now.”
Clan Des Obeaux was second to Bristol De Mai at Haydock first time out this season.
Nicholls said: “He was fit going there, he recovered quickly and he’s in good form. He schooled this morning with Sam (Twiston-Davies) and he’s ready to go.”
Cyrname, meanwhile, had a much easier time at Wetherby compared to last season when he had his battle with Altior.
“Harry (Cobden) schooled him as well this morning and Harry had a big smile on his face. His prep has been good and you’ll see a different horse preparation-wise to what we had last year,” said Nicholls.
Frodon may have to take a step forward but is a Ryanair winner at his best, while Real Steel showed up well in the Gold Cup to be sixth when with Willie Mullins.
“Bryony (Frost) schooled Frodon this morning, he’s been freshened up since he ran at Aintree and he’s in good form.
“Daryl Jacob is going to ride Real Steel, he schooled him this morning. He ran very well in the Gold Cup and the horses who were just in front of him there all feature.
“Ruby (Walsh) tells me he loves going right-handed, so he’s got a chance of running well.”
Nicky Henderson feels Kempton is unlikely to be Santini’s ideal track, but is keen to get another run into him.
Henderson said: “When you are in lockdown Tier 4, you haven’t got a lot to do on a Sunday afternoon (and) I had a bright idea about what to do with Santini.
“The Cotswold Chase is still five or six weeks away, so we supplemented him this morning for the King George party.
“We didn’t put him in originally because I’m the first to admit we don’t think Kempton will be his ideal track – but he’s very well in himself, and there’s nothing else to do.”
Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados could make his seasonal bow in the Grade One feature – with Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently another who would be having his first outing of the campaign, having been off the track since last December.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Monalee, who finished fourth in the Gold Cup, is the sole Irish entry – and Tom George’s Black Op completes the 10-strong list of contenders.