Nicholls will be triple-handed when he attempts to win a record-extending 13th Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, matching Sir Alex’s title triumphs at Manchester United.
And he believes Clan Des Obeaux, co-owned by Sir Alex, is best placed to land the race for a third time – only Kauto Star, Desert Orchid and Wayward Lad have won the celebrated contest on at least three occasions.
Victorious in 2018 and 2019 before finishing third to stablemate Frodon 12 months ago, the ever bullish Nicholls hopes the decision not to give Clan Des Obeaux a prep run will pay off this Sunday.
But Nicholls, who also saddles the aforementioned Frodon and the outsider Saint Calvados, is clearly more than happy with preparations for Harry Cobden’s mount.
Clan Des Obeaux has not been in competitive action since winning the Betway Bowl and Aintree’s Randox Grand National meeting and then a thrilling Punchestown Gold Cup – two of Sir Alex’s most memorable moments in racing.
“I’m very happy with Clan and we set out our stall not to go to Haydock and run him in the Betfair Chase,” explained Nicholls who will be hoping that the horse can provide Sir Alex with an early present ahead of the co-owner’s 80th birthday on New Year’s Eve.
“We thought we’d try something different because I thought last year that he had a very hard race there and wasn’t quite his best in the King George as a consequence.
“He’s had two away days, he had a racecourse gallop at Newbury last month and he’s also had a gallop at Wincanton last week with Saint Calvados and Frodon.”
Nicholls, the 12-times champion trainer, went on: “I love running horses when they’re very fit and very fresh and I couldn’t be happier with him and the way he looks at the moment. I think it will pay off missing Haydock and going there fresh with him.
“I just felt that last year we had to back off him for a couple of weeks after Haydock and then you’re getting tight to the King George to do the preparation that you want – so I’d say that from Clan’s point of view he’s had the best prep he’s ever had going into the race.
“He’s a more finished article now and we all know exactly where he is and what he is and how good he is, so we don’t need to prove anything on route. I’m just trying to get my horses here at their best and I think horses are very dangerous when they are very fresh and very fit with a nice preparation, which he’s had.
“I think he probably was at his best last spring. At Aintree the cheekpieces just seemed to sharpen him up a bit as he’d gotten into a bad habit of racing lazily.
“He was very impressive at Aintree and then he beat a dual Gold Cup winner in Al Boum Photo on his home ground at Punchestown – that was probably a career best and physically he’s probably at his peak now as a nine year old so I’m very happy with him.”
Nicholls believes Clan Des Obeaux and 2020 winner Frodon, who enjoyed a frontrunning masterclass from Bryony Frost, are the two to beat in this nine-runner race.
“It’s been awesome and we’ve been very lucky to win it 12 times. We’ve had some amazing horses and it’s a race we love having horses ready for,” added the trainer, whose Kauto Star was a five-time winner.
“It’s a mid-season Gold Cup and having been involved with Kauto Star so many times just makes it a magical race. It’s a good race and the horses that win this race can win Gold Cups, so good horses win the race. It’s a fantastic race and it’s very valuable. You need the right horse to win this, so I have been very lucky in that the horses that we have had have seemed to have suited the race.
“I think it definitely is our strongest ever squad for this. It looks as good a race as it’s been for a long time. It looks a good strong race and my view is that Clan and Frodon are the two to beat.”