The six-year-old came of age in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, seeing off previous winner Thistlecrack in a terrific tussle with reigning Gold Cup champion Native River a remote third.
It provided the former champion trainer with a remarkable 10th win in the mid-season highlight.
Asked how special the King George is to him, Nicholls said yesterday: “It’s like a mid-season Gold Cup in effect, the best chasers – the best of the best – and to keep producing young horses through the ranks that can win, that is fantastic for the team, the owners and everyone involved.
“The horses that were behind him – Gold Cup winners, King George winners – he’s a young, improving horse that’s going the right way.
“We’ve always thought he was very, very good – it was just a matter of him getting experience and coming along quietly – and he showed how good he was on Boxing Day.”
Clan Des Obeaux, who was ridden by 20-year-old Harry Cobden, is part-owned by ex-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson alongside businessman Ged Mason and Paul Barber, a farmer who also owns the Somerset stables where Nicholls is based.
However, Sir Alex was not at Kempton, sticking instead to the football. Nicholls added: “He knew at half-time – Ged rang him. He’s obviously very excited about it, as are Paul and Ged.
“Now we’ll have to think where we go from here to Cheltenham, whether we run him beforehand somewhere. I don’t want to get involved in a fight somewhere, like with Native River at Newbury before the Gold Cup. That would be pointless, so we’ve got to map out a plan.”
Nicholls’s stable has been in solid form with Clan Des Obeaux the pick of many notable winners as the yard dominates the major races for novice chasers and hurdlers – the stars of the future.
“We’ve got some really smart young horses that have come from three-year-olds onwards and it’s really exciting to be back there with some really nice horses,” he added.
Lady Buttons faces five quality rivals when she lines up in today’s Listed Chase for mares at Doncaster.
Trained near Catterick by Phil Kirby, and owned by Jayne Sivills, connections have opted for this race rather than Wetherby’s Castleford Chase, which was won by the Sue Smith-trained Cracking Find in a photo finish.
The versatile Lady Buttons, the mount of regular rider Adam Nicol, has already won high-profile races at Wetherby and Newbury this season.
Unbeaten novice hurdler Kateson lines up in today’s Challow Hurdle at Newbury, the final Grade One race of 2019 in this country. The exciting prospect is trained by Tom Lacey and is the mount of Tom Scudamore.
The fine recent run of trainer Rebecca Menzies and jockey Henry Brooke continued when Nortonthorpelegend took Catterick’s three-mile handicap chase yesterday.