Paul Nicholls expects Clan Des Obeaux and Cyrname to serve up a Boxing Day treat in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.
Clan Des Obeaux has won the last two renewals of the Kempton Park showpiece, and had esteemed stablemate Cyrname some 21 lengths behind 12 months ago.
However, there is little to separate the pair at the top of the betting for the rematch, with Clan Des Obeaux warming up for his hat-trick bid with a runner-up finish behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase, and Cyrname oozing class on his Charlie Hall comeback.
Nicholls said: “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.
“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.”
Reflecting on Clan Des Obeaux’s latest Haydock effort, Nicholls said: “I think it was one of his best runs, considering the ground. Obviously it suited Bristol De Mai, who loves that heavy ground. It was a shame it rained.
“Clan always does come on for a run, but I made sure he was ready for Haydock because we went there hoping we might win. If the ground had been different it may well have been a different result, but he ran well in the circumstances.
“I think three and a quarter miles, as it almost was, on that ground, is far enough for him on his stamina – the time of the race was well over seven minutes.
“Kempton obviously suits him a lot better and he’s well ready now.”
Having inflicted a first defeat over jumps on Altior at Ascot the previous month, Cyrname was all the rage for last year’s King George, but ultimately proved no match for Clan Des Obeaux.
But Nicholls expects the eight-year-old to make more of a race of it on Saturday, having had an extra three weeks to recover from a less bruising first run of the season at Wetherby.
“Cyrname has had the ideal preparation,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“I didn’t want to run him after winning the Charlie Hall as it gave us a good eight to 10 weeks to prepare him for Kempton, unlike last year, when he had a hard race at Ascot.
“He’s very well. He wasn’t right last year as he never really got over the Ascot race. He ran well in the King George to be second, but was nowhere near his best.
“He looks great now and is more relaxed in everything he does, which means he can get three miles.
“He’s got a good record at Kempton and doesn’t have to go tearing off in front like he used to – he’s a different animal now.”
Nicholls also saddles Frodon and Real Steel in a bid to add to his record haul of 11 King George wins.
Frodon was last seen in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree, while Real Steel was third in the 1965 Chase at Ascot on his first start for the yard, after finishing sixth in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup when trained by Willie Mullins.
Nicholls added: “It was a waste of time for Frodon at Aintree – it was like the last time he went there when they took all the fences out. It’s probably not the ideal track for him, he never got in a rhythm.
“He deserves to be in the line-up. He’s got a mountain to climb to beat the others, but he deserves to be there.
“I’ve only just been learning about Real Steel and he’s improved massively for his first run.”