THE Christmas Racing Festivals are full of intrigue and all eyes will be on the King George on St Stephen’s Day at Kempton.
Paul Nicholls has been a regular visitor to Leeside over the years and his exploits with Denman, Kauto Star and Big Bucks are legendary. Nicholls has a very strong hand in this year’s big race with Clan Des Obeaux, Frodon and Saint Calvados all prominent in the betting. Nicholls has an enviable record in the Ladbrokes-sponsored showpiece, winning it a record 12 times, including on five occasions with the legendary Kauto Star.
In Clan Des Obeaux, he has the 2018 and 2019 King George hero who has long been the ante-post favourite, although his position at the head of the market has recently come under pressure from Gold Cup winner Minella Indo who will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore. Trainer Henry De Bromhead also has the Betfair Chase winner A Plus Tard in his yard so naturally connections are happy to keep these two brilliant horses apart until a possible showdown in the Gold Cup in March at Cheltenham.
Frodon, who stole the headlines when triumphing from Clan Des Obeaux under Bryony Frost in the race 12 months ago, is next best at a general 5-1, while Saint Calvados, who was fourth last year and joined Nicholls over the summer, is 25-1. Clan Des Obeaux and Saint Calvados will be having their first starts of the season in the £250,000 contest, but Frodon has a run under his belt, with victory in Down Royal’s Champion Chase in October.
Nicholls said: “They’re all fine and had a gallop at Wincanton. Clan is very fresh and well and he was mad fresh this week. It’s a different preparation to what we have given him leading into the race before. Normally he has had a run before going to the King George but I think doing this will suit him better.
“Frodon has had his month off and is now back working away. He looks in good order. He has been bucking and squealing and making himself known in the yard. Saint Calvados hasn’t had a run for us yet. He has always gone well [fresh] in the past so we thought we’d go straight there on the back of doing a load of work at home. They are three interesting horses for the race.”
Cork man Joe Donnelly who has enjoyed a great couple of years with dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo will be represented with the Willie Mullins trained Asterion Forlonge.
He’s been a frustrating horse to follow and was travelling all over the eventual winner Allaho when unseating Bryan Cooper at the third-last in the John Durkan on his comeback run at Punchestown recently.
Mullins said: “I think we’re going to head in that direction [King George] with Asterion Forlonge. He was the only horse to be travelling better than Allaho when he fell three out in the John Durkan at Punchestown on his reappearance.
"It was obviously a long way from home and, while it’s hard to say he would have won had he stood up, he was certainly travelling very well at the time. If he can capitalise on what was materialising into being a lovely return effort, he could have a solid chance in the King George, and we’re happy to aim him for that.”
Interestingly Mullins was asked about his stable jockey Paul Townend who bounced back with a treble on his return at Fairyhouse last weekend.
Asked if Paul Townend would travel over to Kempton to take the ride on Asterion Forlonge, Mullins said: “We haven’t discussed riding plans yet but I’d imagine there will be lots of horses for Paul to ride at home over Christmas. I doubt he’ll be going to Kempton.”
The Punchestown mishap means Asterion Forlonge has completed just four of his last seven starts over fences but his talent is unquestioned and the bookmakers make him a general 6-1 chance which looks ridiculously short. There has been no Irish-trained winner of the King George since Kicking King won back-to-back renewals in 2004 and 2005, but this week Minella Indo’s owner Barry Maloney confirmed the Gold Cup winner was on course to run at Kempton.
His trainer Henry De Bromhead confirmed that Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo is bang on course for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Minella Indo, currently 7-2 second-favourite for the three-mile showpiece with the sponsors behind Clan Des Obeaux, will have the chance to avenge his five-length defeat by Frodon in the Irish Champion Chase at Down Royal on his return to action in October. It really is shaping up to be a race of the season.