The Ditcheat master is the most successful trainer in the history of the Boxing Day showpiece, having won the race 11 times with legendary names such as See More Business, Silviniaco Conti and, of course, Kauto Star.
While it is difficult to see the latter’s incredible record of five victories being surpassed, Nicholls has, in Clan Des Obeaux, found himself another stellar horse who has proven himself perfectly suited to the Kempton test.
The eight-year-old has won each of the past two renewals and will be looking to become only the third horse to land a straight hat-trick of wins, after Kauto Star and the great Desert Orchid, when he lines up on Saturday.
Part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, Clan Des Obeaux made his seasonal reappearance when a fine second to Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase, and despite some initial concerns about the toll which that slog in the Haydock mud might have taken, Nicholls is sure he has his charge in fine order.
“We’d have preferred the ground not to be so heavy and had it not been so heavy it might’ve been a different result,” Nicholls tells Standard Sport. “He’s come out of that very well, he schooled this morning and he’s fine, he’s in good shape.
“He’s a high class horse and if he did win three it’d be an amazing feat.”
Each of Clan’s last two King George successes have been followed by disappointment in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, and having accepted that another trip to Prestbury Park would be fool’s errand, Nicholls has had this race as his prime target for the best part of a year, a welcome outlook at a time when racing’s obsession with the Festival is once again being criticised as detrimental to the wider game.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Nicholls explains. “It’s been our target all the way through, to have one run at Haydock and then go to the King George.
“Everything’s gone great, we know how to get him right, we know how to get him ready, and obviously that’s a big advantage.
“Cheltenham’s not the be all and end all. We want to win races like this – Cheltenham’s a great meeting but for us it’s not the complete focus.”
Last year’s victory came courtesy of a 21-length demolition of stablemate Cyrname, the highest-rated chaser in the land, who re-opposes in contention at the head of the market.
Unlike twelve months ago, when Cyrname arrived off the back of a gruelling clash with Altior at Ascot, Harry Cobden’s mount comes in off a kinder preparation, having addressed some, though not all, of his stamina concerns with his first win over three miles, in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October.
“He does need to be is nice and fresh so we didn’t want to run him after the end of October,” Nicholls, a Betfair ambassador, says. “The race he had was ideal so he’s had the perfect preparation as opposed to last year.
“He’s in a different place to last year and that’s why I think they’re hard to separate.”
Nicholls is also represented by 2019 Ryanair winner Frodon and Real Steel, a transfer across the Irish Sea from Willie Mullins this summer. Coronavirus travel restrictions mean the race has been slightly weakened by the absence of Henry De Bromhead’s Monalee, but it was just as quickly strengthened by the surprise supplementation of Nicky Henderson’s Santini earlier this week, while Colin Tizzard’s Lostintraslation is another with strong claims. The latter pair finished second and third, respectively, in March’s Gold Cup.
It is the ‘big two’, however, who head the market and are the topic of lively discussion within the yard.
“Everyone has their own opinions,” Nicholls adds. “The different lads who look after them have their opinions. Scott Marshall actually rides Cyrname out everyday and also rides Clan out as well, so he’s got a bit on his plate.
“They all get the best of everything and at the end of the day they all go out there to try and win.
“One of them will beat the other or something else will beat the pair of them, so at the end of the day it’s a friendly rivalry.”
History would suggest the former is more likely.
For more from Betfair ambassador Paul Nicholls read his racing previews on Betting.Betfair.com and listen to him on Betfair’s ‘Racing…Only Bettor’ podcast, available on Boxing Day.