Champion trainer Paul Nicholls believes that he holds the strongest hand for this year’s Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park as he bids to seal a record-extending 13th winner in the Grade One prize.
The Ditcheat hander has won each of the last three renewals of the race with Clan Des Obeaux (2018 and 2019) and Frodon (2020), and although this year’s race looks a top-class one he feels that his runners are the ones to beat in a race which he holds particularly close to his heart.
Nicholls said: “It’s been awesome and we’ve been very lucky to win it 12 times. We’ve had some amazing horses and it’s a race we love having horses ready for.
“It’s a mid-season Gold Cup and having been involved with Kauto Star so many times just makes it a magical race.
“It’s a good race and the horses that win this race can win Gold Cups, so good horses win the race. It’s a fantastic race and it’s very valuable. You need the right horse to win this, so I have been very lucky in that the horses that we have had have seemed to have suited the race.
“I think it definitely is our strongest ever squad for this. We’ve got two previous winners in here and it looks as good a race as it’s been for a long time. It looks a good strong race and my view is that Clan and Frodon are the two to beat.”
Last year’s King George winner Frodon started his campaign in perfect fashion, defeating a strong field to win the Grade One Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in October and Nicholls has reported his charge to be in fine form.
He said: “He’s A1 and has had a good prep for a month after Down Royal, he’s done plenty since and went very nicely at Wincanton last week with Clan Des Obeaux. He’s schooled well and looks great, so he’s the typical horse that you know.
“Kempton suits him well and that’s why I thought Down Royal would suit him, it’s a similar type of track and three miles at Kempton is completely different to the Cheltenham Gold Cup. This race and this course suits and his preparation has suited him well, we’ve have got him back really fresh since his run so he’s in very good shape.
“He’s got a leading chance and the last time he ran he beat Galvin - who might well win the Savills Chase this year - and the Gold Cup winner Minella Indo. In my eyes that was a career best for him, so if he’s at the top of his game now and has improved a bit from last year he’s definitely got an outstanding chance.
“He’s been an amazing servant. To win the races he has is fantastic. He is tough and sound and we could all do with more horses like him. He loves the game and always gives his all so he’s been a fantastic servant to us all.”
Clan Des Obeaux could only finish third behind Frodon in this race 12 months ago, but that came on the back of a hard race in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park and having opted to swerve that engagement this time around, Nicholls feels that the nine year old will be a different proposition on Sunday.
He explained: “I’m very happy with him and we set out our stall not to go to Haydock and run him in the Betfair Chase. We thought we’d try something different because I thought last year that he had a very hard race there and wasn’t quite his best in the King George as a consequence.
“He’s had two away days, he had a racecourse gallop at Newbury last month and he’s also had a gallop at Wincanton last week with Saint Calvados and Frodon. I love running horses when they’re very fit and very fresh and I couldn’t be happier with him and the way he looks at the moment. I think it will pay off missing Haydock and going there fresh with him.
“I just felt that last year we had to back off him for a couple of weeks after Haydock and then you’re getting tight to the King George to do the preparation that you want – so I’d say that from Clan’s point of view he’s had the best prep he’s ever had going into the race. We don’t want to over-race him and Newbury followed by Aintree and Punchestown in the spring will do him for this year.
“He’s a more finished article now and we all know exactly where he is and what he is and how good he is, so we don’t need to prove anything on route. I’m just trying to get my horses here at their best and I think horses are very dangerous when they are very fresh and very fit with a nice preparation, which he’s had.
“I think he probably was at his best last spring. At Aintree the cheekpieces just seemed to sharpen him up a bit as he’d gotten into a bad habit of racing lazily. He was very impressive at Aintree and then he beat a dual Gold Cup winner in Al Boum Photo on his home ground at Punchestown - that was probably a career best and physically he’s probably at his peak now as a nine year old so I’m very happy with him.”
Nicholls is triple-handed in the race and also sends out Saint Calvados, who is a new recruit to the yard. The eight year old seemed to run out of stamina when only fourth in this race last season, but his new handler is hopeful that he can build on that here after working on his jumping.
He said: “He has been very good fresh and I didn’t have him ready for a prep race, he’s taken quite a bit of work to get him used to our system but I’m very happy with him now. He galloped the other day behind Clan Des Obeaux and Frodon at Wincanton and Gavin Sheehan who rode him was thrilled with him.
“He’s done lots of work and is in good shape and ran very well here last year, I just thought he was a bit sloppy with his jumping in the straight and if he’d have jumped the last three fences he’d have gone a lot closer, so we’ve done a lot of work on his jumping to sharpen him up a bit. As an older horse he’s just picked up a few habits and obviously I’ve never run him so I won’t know for sure, but he’s good and he couldn’t have had a better preparation.
“Until they do it you don’t actually know and last year he did finish weakly up the straight when he looked like the winner turning in, but I don’t think his jumping helped him. I don’t know whether he’ll get three miles because he’s never done that, everything would suggest at home he will and I don’t see why not – especially at Kempton.”
Another Ditcheat star that looks set to run on Boxing Day is the exciting Bravemansgame, who holds an entry in the Grade One Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices' Chase over three miles. The son of Brave Mansonnien, a Grade One winner over hurdles, has made the perfect start to his chasing career so far and his trainer is hopeful that he can continue that progress on Sunday afternoon.
He said: “He’s been good this year, he won well at Newton Abbot and the horse he beat there has gone on to win the Charlie Hall (Fusil Raffles) and then he won very nicely at Haydock against more experienced horses.
“This is the first time he’s run in a novice chase and I’m thrilled with his preparation and I think we’ve learned this year that he doesn’t want to do quite so much work, which has paid off and he’s been a bit better this year.
“It’s no good comparing them with horses in the past and if he can achieve half of what Denman did in the future we’d be delighted. He is a proper horse though and he’s a lot stronger and better than he was last year.
“He had always been a little bit on the weak side, when we ran him in bumpers when he was four you could hardly train him as he was that babyish, but now he’s more mature and is going to keep improving as he gets physically stronger. As you’ll see when he runs on Sunday, he looks fantastic and I’d say that three miles round there will suit him very well.”