Perfect 10 as Nicholls sees faith justified at Kempton

HARRY COBDEN rewarded the faith shown by Paul Nicholls '“ and Sir Alex Ferguson '“ by winning a dramatic King George Chase, racing's mid-winter highlight, on the progressive Clan Des Obeaux.

Glory: Harry Cobden riding Clan des Obeaux wins The King George VI Chase at Kempton. (Picture: Getty Images)

Just 20 years of age, Cobden’s confident ride – he got the better of 2016 King George hero Thistlecrack in a thrilling finish – silenced the few remaining doubters after he became No 1 jockey to Nicholls at the start of this season.

And the fact that Clan Des Obeaux will not be seven until New Year’s Day, a young age for a top-class steeplechaser, suggests this is a horse who still has room for further improvement.

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“It’s absolutely brilliant. He has improved a lot for his last run and he has done it really well in the end,” said Cobden, who spent much of the summer on the sidelines with neck injuries.

Harry Cobden celebrates after riding Clan des Obeaux to victory in the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on December 26. (Picture: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

“I definitely thought he would improve. He is very lazy at home and didn’t do much from the last. I was struggling to keep up most of the way, but his jumping put him in there. It’s massive, winning the King George.”

A fiercely run race from the off, there was drama at halfway when Bristol De Mai – winner of Haydock’s Betfair Chase last month – fell at the fence in front of the stands, badly hampering Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently who unseated Brian Hughes.

However, Cobden was determined not to hit the front too soon as he tracked the Colin Tizzard-trained Thistlecrack who rolled back the years for jockey Tom Scudamore with a slicker round of jumping.

A fine leap at the last sealed it for Clan Des Obeaux with Tizzard’s Gold Cup winner Native River a brave third after struggling to handle the early pace. One of many disappointments was the Nicholls-trained Politologue who did not stay.

Clan Des Obeaux and Harry Cobden lead Thistlecrack and Tom Scudamore home to win the King George Chase at Kempton.

However, Nicholls – in winning this race for a record 10th time – revealed that jockey bookings were made after the aforementioned Betfair Chase when Clan Des Obeaux was fourth.

“At Haydock I got in the car with Harry Cobden afterwards and said ‘you have got a headache now’ as Politologue had just won at Ascot and I said ‘what are you going to ride?’,” he said.

“He said ‘I’ve not got a headache, there is only one I’m going to ride’. He has a lot of faith in the horse. He thought he ran really well the other day and it made a man of him.”

He went on: “Ten King George wins is amazing. For my landlord (Paul Barber), Ged (Mason) and Sir Alex Ferguson who all own the horse, it doesn’t get any better. It is absolutely awesome.

“It was a very good run at Haydock for the stage of his career and he sort of got forgotten. Some said he was not good enough, but horses progress. He was like a footballer coming from the Championship going into the Premiership that day. I think there is a lot to come from him.

“To win races like this means more than anything, I can tell you. He is a proper Gold Cup contender.”

Earlier Nicky Henderson’s dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air suffered a shock defeat in the Christmas Hurdle when beaten by stablemate Verdana Blue in a photo-finish.

It completed a perplexing day for Henderson whose Might Bite, the 2017 King George winner, ran no sort of race. he, and jockey Nico de Boinville, will be hoping for better luck when two-mile chase champion Altior puts his unbeaten record over fences on the line in today’s Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.

Danny Cook is hopeful that Sue Smith’s Vintage Clouds can improve on last season’s fourth place finish in the Welsh National.

The Yorkshire runner lines up at Chepstow today on the back of an eyecatching win at Haydock last month.

“He has a little bit more weight this time,” Cook told The Yorkshire Post. “But I do think he is a better horse this year and he should be competitive in all the big races.”

Ante-post Arkle Trophy favourite Kalashnikov puts his reputation on the line in a cracking renewal of the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton.

Unbeaten from two starts over fences, the Amy Murphy-trained chaser – the mount of Jack Quinlan – faces Dynamite Dollars, who is already a Grade One winner, and Maria’s Benefit, a bold-jumping front-runner.

“The nerves are OK – I’m excited and hoping for a good run,” said Murphy. “He’s at a point now where he needs to take his chance in a better race.”