CHAMPION trainer Paul Nicholls hopes to continue his unprecedented domination of the King George VI Chase – the centrepiece of the Boxing Day racing programme – when Clan Des Obeaux and Cyrname line up in this year’s renewal.
Victory for either 2018 hero Clan Des Obeaux, co-owned by football legend Sir Alex Ferguson, or Cyrname, the highest-rated National Hunt horse in training, would take the trainer’s tally in the Ladbrokes-sponsored Kempton showpiece to 11.
It is a run of success that began in 1997 when North Yorkshire rider Andrew Thornton partnered See More Business to victory in this three-mile Grade One race, with Mick Fitzgerald in the saddle when the horse won back his Christmas crown two years later.
“He was the first good horse I ever had, and he probably put me on the map. He was a fantastic horse who won a Gold Cup and two King Georges,” said Nicholls.
Fitzgerald, who was also in the saddle when See More Business took the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup, said: “Whenever you’re riding a reigning Gold Cup champion, you’re confident.
“He’d had a hard race in the Charlie Hall in Wetherby when he broke the track record, and I wondered if he could possibly improve from that – and he improved beyond all recognition. It was a bit of a demolition job.”
Nicholls’ dominance in the race was established during the era of Kauto Star, who posted a record five King George victories across six seasons.
He lifted the first of four successive titles in 2006 and, after defeat in 2010 to Long Run, came back 12 months later to claim a record fifth triumph to eclipse the four wins of David Elsworth’s great grey Desert Orchid.
Ruby Walsh, who was aboard during all five victories, said: “Kauto Star was an incredible racehorse, a once-in-a-lifetime horse. He evolved over his five King Georges from being a bit keen and a very fast horse in the beginning to being an out-and-out stayer in the end.
“He attacked his fences and he had no trouble with the trip, so he was just a brilliant horse. For him to do it as an 11-year-old, to win a fifth, to win it back, that was a magic day.”
Kauto Star remains the most successful horse in the history of the race, with trainer Nicholls saying: “He loved the track. Kempton was made for him really. He had the rare things of lots and lots of speed and also could stay. Not many have got both. When he won five it was just one of those days you’ll never, ever forget – a fantastic day.”
Kauto Star was retired in 2012, but it did not take long for another horse from the Nicholls yard to follow in his footsteps.
Silviniaco Conti won his trainer an eighth King George in 2013, a three-and-a-half-length success over Cue Card, following up the win with another the following year.
Nicholls said: “I sort of have to pinch myself sometimes that we’d had Kauto and then all of a sudden Conti replaced him, and he came along at the right time.”
Noel Fehily, who steered the chestnut to both victories, said: “He was a fantastic horse to ride and a very good jumper. He was a very straightforward horse –you could put him wherever you wanted in a race. The first year he won the King George he followed Cue Card around, and then the following year he made the running. He often made all - which made him a very straightforward horse and a class horse to ride.”
Nicholls’ most recent King George came last year, when Harry Cobden rode Clan Des Obeaux to victory over former winner Thistlecrack who reopposes.
Cobden, 21, one of the weighing room’s brightest young stars, has opted to ride Cyrname – the question is whether the chaser, stepping up to three miles for the first time, will see out a high-class renewal race that features, amongst others, Colin Tizzard’s ante-post Gold Cup favourite Lostintranslation.
Nicholls, who has booked former stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies to ride Clan Des Obeaux, was sympathetic over Cobden’s choice.
He said: “I didn’t envy him his choice. I simply advised Harry to put all emotion aside and go for the horse he felt had the best chance.
“I know he didn’t find it easy to overlook the horse who gave him the greatest success of his career in the King George 12 months ago. I’m very lucky to have won 10 King Georges, especially with the horses I have. It’s a fantastic race – and I look forward to the next 10!”