Paul Nicholls is the King of the King George.
Nine of the previous fifteen renewals of Kempton’s Christmas classic have gone the way of Nicholls- five times courtesy of Kauto Star, and twice each for Silviniaco Conti and Clan Des Obeaux, and he looks to hold the strongest hand once again in 2020.
What are the King George Tips?
Two-time champion Clan Des Obeaux looks likely to be sent off favourite for the first in a King George in his hat-trick bid; currently a best price of 7-4, and I’m leaning towards the idea of him retaining his title once more.
Clan Des Obeaux’s claims are blindingly obvious; a horse perfectly suited by the blended test of speed and stamina provided by three miles at Kempton.
His 2018 victory in this race was somewhat unexpected; all form prior to that had been below the requirement to win an open Grade 1, but Clan Des Obeaux was only six and still on the improve, adding the Denman Chase to his CV next time out and shaping well when a non-staying fifth in the Gold Cup.
If 2018 was development for Clan Des Obeaux, 2019 was confirmation of his presence as an undoubtedly top class steeplechaser in the right conditions, making it back to back victories here with an utterly bloodless display, travelling and jumping his rivals into submission for a comfortable twenty-one length victory.
Now eight, he is well in his prime as a chaser, and his two-length second to Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai in the Betfair last time out was a better prep run than in either of the previous two seasons.
Given the promise shown by the effort last time out and his flawless record in the race, the tentative vote goes in his favour, though it would be foolish to expect this year’s opposition to underperform as drastically as they did last year.
That comment could be applied to Cyrname, Clan Des Obeaux’s stablemate and biggest rival according to the market.
The highest-rated chaser in training ran a lacklustre second behind Clan Des Obeaux, never able to lay a glove on the winner, but Cyrname is undoubtedly able to perform to higher than that level, as shown when claiming the scalp of Altior in the 1965 Chase last November.
The suspicion that Cyrname left the rest of his season at Ascot last year was all but confirmed with another tired looking effort when falling when out of contention in the Ascot Chase subsequent to the King George, but Nicholls looked to have Cyrname back to near his best when the superstar recorded a cosy victory in the Charlie Hall on his debut this season.
Jockey Harry Cobden has said he feels his mount is in better shape this time around and if its peak Cyrname that shows up at Kempton this year, he will Clan Des Obeaux a bigger test than he has ever faced before.
Of the others, Lostintranslation’s fine Gold Cup third appeared to allay doubts about his flop in this race last season, but he looked uneasy when a poor third in the Betfair last time out.
Given the patchiness of the Tizzard stable form, he is hard to recommend at the minute with so much uncertainty surrounding him, whilst the supplemented Santini surely won’t have the pace for the sharp Kempton track.
Irish raider Monalee should come on for a fairly disappointing return at Thurles and has been unlucky not to win an open Grade 1 yet, last season undoubtedly being the best of his career, and is a credible threat, though his tendency to make errors at crucial times is a worry.
The most interesting runner at a bigger price is another Ditcheat resident in Real Steel, a recent recruit from Willie Mullins who won twice at Grade 2 level in Ireland for his former handler last season.
Admittedly, his stable debut at Ascot last month was nothing to shout about, but he certainly improved throughout 2019/20 and shaped like a Grade 1 level horse when travelling well for a long way in the Gold Cup, only found wanting to for a lack of stamina late on.
Kempton should be much more up his street than Cheltenham, so 14-1 could make appeal if wanting a strategy away for his two short-priced stablemates at the head of the market.