All eyes on Kauto as weather bites

Kauto Star already has his name firmly etched on the roll of true racing greats but he is set to surpass even the legendary Desert Orchid with another victory in the William Hill King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

David Elsworth's galloping grey had a statue erected in his memory at Kempton after winning the mid-winter showcase four times – a feat which never seemed likely to be equalled, let alone bettered.

But when Kauto Star strolled home by 36 effortless lengths 12 months ago, he was winning the race for the fourth year in a row and, if anything, now comes up against the weakest opposition he has faced at the Sunbury circuit.

Second-favourite Long Run did not look the potential superstar many believed him to be after winning last year's Feltham when only third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, whereas normal service was resumed on Kauto Star's reappearance, with a workmanlike, yet authoritative, defeat of another of Sunday's opponents, Sizing Europe, at Down Royal.

The recent bad weather has done little to dampen his enthusiasm, with trainer Paul Nicholls saying: "He won his prep race nicely, he's gone ever so well since and I'm very happy with him. He's been in really good order.

"His record is incredible. That's 14 Grade Ones he's won. He's won 17 races for us and not been out of the first two each time he's got round.

"That speaks for itself. He's an amazing horse and, at the moment, he's in amazing form.

"We're lucky to have a horse like him in the yard and that's what we all strive for. I'm very, very lucky."

Kauto Star will team up with newly-crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year AP McCoy for the first time, in the absence of Noel Fehily and regular pilot Ruby Walsh.

Nicholls has further claims of Grade One glory, courtesy of Aiteen Thirtythree in the Feltham Novices' Chase.

The six-year-old did not convince with his attitude last season but put any doubts surrounding his resolution behind him with a battling Cheltenham success over timber, before taking the switch to fences in his stride with a comfortable Grade Two victory at Newbury.

On a day full of potential Cheltenham clues for the champion trainer, Nicholls saddles Toubab in the Novices' Hurdle. The French import showed the benefit of a summer at Ditcheat with an eight-length hammering of Drill Sergeant at Haydock and he can cement his position towards the head of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle market.

Reigning Champion Hurdle hero Binocular adds further lustre to a mouth-watering card and continues on the path back to the Festival in the Christmas Hurdle.

He fluffed his lines in this last year, though, as well as on his reappearance in the rearranged Fighting Fifth, and on both occasions Starluck finished ahead of him. Alan Fleming's stable star is just below the very top level in the true championship races, but a flat, quick circuit like Kempton is ideal for a horse with his acceleration, and he represents value against the likely favourite.

The aforementioned Drill Sergeant lines up in the Handicap Hurdle but will need to take his jumping form to a new level if he is make a race of it with Dynaste.

David Pipe's charge does not have that much experience and he could not get to grips with a 'thrown-in' Aegean Dawn at Cheltenham, but he was 17 lengths clear of the third on that occasion and considering the winner is now 26lb higher, an 11lb hike for Dynaste is not too harsh.

Nicky Henderson has won three of the last four renewals of the Novices' Handicap Chase and can continue the trend with Shakalakaboomboom, who won as he liked over course and distance last month.

On a decimated fixture list, Fontwell stages a decent card and Henderson's Peveril catches the eye in the opening Sue Dodd Remembrance And Celebration Beginners Chase.

Fourth at the Cheltenham Festival, and one place better in the Listed race won by Grands Crus at Haydock on his return, he appeals as an exciting recruit to fences and could go far.

Pipe sends just two runners to the Sussex venue, of which Spanish Cruise has by far the best chance and is worth more than a second glance on his debut for the Pond House handler in the Try Mobile Betting Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle.

There is all-weather action at Wolverhampton, where Amwell Pinot tries an artificial surface for the first time in the Mince Pie Novice Stakes.

Deemed good enough to tackle the Coventry Stakes back in the summer, his subsequent performances behind smart juveniles make him the one to beat here.