It may be a different Ladbrokes King George VI Chase day at Kempton Park without the Christmas throng of racegoers due to Covid restrictions – but it is likely to be business as usual in the main event this afternoon.
Paul Nicholls has won the Boxing Day showpiece a record 11 times, and again appears to hold all the aces. The Ditcheat trainer is responsible for four of the nine runners as he bids to make it a dozen victories in one of the real highlights of the jumping calendar.
Clan Des Obeaux, winner for the last two years, heads his quartet, although Nicholls is convinced there is nothing between him and Cyrname.
The latter has 21 lengths to find on his stablemate from the 2019 running, but Cyrname comes into the race on the back of a comfortable success in the Charlie Hall Chase, whereas last winter he had been in a tough battle with Altior at Ascot.
Can Cyrname turn the tables on his stablemate?
This time it is Clan Des Obeaux who has had a hard race on his reappearance, when second to Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase. Having those two big guns would be enough for any trainer, but Nicholls also pitches in the ever-popular combination of Frodon and Bryony Frost and the former Willie Mullins-trained Real Steel.
It is not just going to be a Nicholls benefit, however. Far from it. Lostintranslation, from the Colin Tizzard yard, was a big disappointment last year and while he did not sparkle in the Betfair Chase his connections have not lost any faith in his ability. Nicky Henderson has also thrown a spanner in the works by supplementing Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Santini.
Epatante is the Christmas (Hurdle) cracker
Henderson holds the key to the main supporting race on the card, the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle. The Seven Barrows trainer is giving Epatante her last race before she bids to retain the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
The brilliant mare took this prize last year from Silver Streak and the Evan Williams-trained grey does battle again. Henderson also saddles Floressa, who won the same race at Newbury that Epatante won last term.
Blue is the colour for Skelton
The third Grade One event on the programme, the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, named after Nicholls’ five-time King George hero, has an open look to it.
Nicholls saddles Exeter winner Enrilo in a bid to claim a fifth success, but there are plenty of other promising young staying chasers in the line-up.
Dan Skelton in particular has a leading contender in Shan Blue, who has impressed in winning his two races over fences to date. The Big Breakaway, for the Tizzard team, has a big reputation and is expected to bounce back from defeat over an inadequate trip last time.
Harry Fry’s Grade One-winning hurdler If The Cap Fits and the Philip Hobbs-trained Kalooki could also have more to give over the larger obstacles.