Paul Nicholls leads Britain’s defence in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase with a three-pronged attack at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
The Ditcheat trainer will be at the forefront of repelling another successful raid from Henry de Bromhead, who sends Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo over from his Waterford base, and Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins, who is responsible for Asterion Forlonge and Tornado Flyer.
Past winners Clan Des Obeaux, successful in 2018 and 2019, and Frodon 12 months ago, plus Saint Calvados, give Nicholls a big chance of a record-extending 13th triumph in the three-mile showpiece.
Nicholls believes Frodon – who will again be ridden by Bryony Frost – has a tremendous chance of landing back-to-back victories after his run in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal when he had Minella Indo beaten five lengths in third place.
“Kempton suits him well and that is why I thought Down Royal would suit him, it’s a similar type of track. Three miles here is completely different to three and a quarter in the Gold Cup,” he said.
“This preparation suits him as well, he had a run then we backed off him. He looks fantastic.
“He’s got to have a leading chance as the last time he ran he beat Galvin – who could win the Savills Chase – and the Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, so in my eyes that was a career-best. He’s at the top of his game now, looks to have improved from last year and definitely has an outstanding chance.”
After disappointing last year following a hard race at Haydock, Clan Des Obeaux bids to regain his crown without having a prep run.
“He’s had two away days at Newbury and Wincanton and I love running horses when they are very fit and very fresh and the way he looks at the moment I couldn’t be happier. I think it will pay off going there very fresh with him,” said Nicholls.
“The first year he won it he came on massively from his run in the Betfair Chase, but he went into that just about the outsider of the field. He was just out of his novice year so we knew he was going to progress.
“Now he’s the finished article and we all know what he is and how he is so we don’t need to prove anything en route.
“Last year after Haydock we just had to back off for a couple of weeks and then you are getting tight to giving them the prep they need for a race like the King George.”
Saint Calvados makes his first appearance for the Nicholls team, having been trained by Harry Whittington when fourth 12 months ago.
“I’ve never run him so I don’t know, but he looks good and couldn’t have had a better preparation. He finished weakly in the straight last year having looked the winner turning in, but I don’t think his jumping helped him then,” he said.
“I don’t know about the three miles yet because he hasn’t proved it, but he doesn’t seem the sharpest at home- he seems a galloper so I don’t see why he won’t get the trip, especially around Kempton.”
Minella Indo will sport cheekpieces for the first time, and De Bromhead is expecting a bold bid from Rachael Blackmore’s mount.
He said: “He seems in good form, we’re happy with him and we’re hoping for a big run. He’s really stepped forward from Down Royal.
“It (cheekpieces) is just to sharpen him a bit, he seems good in them at home so we’ll just see if they’ll help him.”
Asterion Forlonge has a point to prove after coming down when holding every chance in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.
However, the Mullins camp feel the step up in trip and the course at Kempton will suit the grey.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “He was travelling very well when he came down, though it was a long way out. It’s going to be his first try at three miles which we think will improve him.
“If he can look where he’s putting his feet he will be involved in the finish, but the trip will help him.”
The Mullins stable also have Tornado Flyer, who ran on from to finish a never-dangerous fifth in the John Durkan.
“He’ll have come on for his first run and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some prize-money,” Mullins added.
Second-season novice Chantry House is Nicky Henderson’s first string as the Seven Barrows handler goes for a fourth King George win.
The seven-year-old faces a much more difficult task from his seasonal debut when he defeated sole rival The Big Breakaway at Sandown seven weeks ago.
“We’ve had some very good days in the King George, we’ve won it a few times and had some unlucky ones a few times,” he said.
“To me it’s the second most important Classic chase of the season. You are taking on Gold Cup winners and previous King George winners, the novices coming into this season we don’t know. Sandown wasn’t a great test, I’m not complaining about that, we’ve often used the Hennessy for second-season novices.
“But we rather felt that wasn’t the place, and I didn’t think Haydock was necessarily the place. The Sandown race has always been there, and it’s designed purely for horses like him. Some will say it’s unsatisfactory having only two runners and I’d agree with that, it was a pity. We could have done with half a dozen and something to give us a lead.
“I’ve little doubt he’ll get the trip well round Kempton. We were at one stage thinking ‘crikey, they’ll go quick’ and will he be quick enough. But that actually doesn’t worry me, I’m sure he is.”
Henderson is also keen on Mister Fisher, who was only beaten a neck by Frodon at Sandown in April.
“We’ve had some issues with Mister Fisher. Earlier in the year I was working him and it was uncharacteristically lacklustre,” he said.
“We did it again a week later and he was no better. The vets came in and it took two minutes to find out he had a fibrillating heart, which is not a nice thing to happen, but we got it corrected relatively quickly – it took about three days.
“That necessitated two weeks box rest, so you put yourself back and then he had three weeks cantering again before he was ready to gallop.
“He’s been back to the same gallop to where he was working before and the old Mister Fisher has come back. It’s incredible – you wouldn’t believe it was possible. He’s a very, very good work horse.
“I’ve always wanted to try him over three miles and he must have good ground. He is very talented.”
The Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation returned to form with victory at Ascot last month and has a third try at the King George after being pulled up in two previous attempts.
“I’m happy with him, he’s come out of Ascot really well. It’s another step forward and however happy I am with him, and he was great at Ascot, he needs to take another step forward and back that up to be competitive in this,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father.
“He’s showing all the signs at home that he has and that he will be competitive in this, but it’s just nice to get him back.
“If he’s anywhere near his best, like he is showing at home, then he’ll be competitive.
“If he brings his A-game and gets a bit of luck in running, then hopefully he’ll run a big race.”