Check in with Planet Sport each day for all the latest betting, odds, news and tips for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Fine nine to go toe-to-toe in the King George
Paul Nicholls is going mob handed to Kempton but will face strong comeptition for favouritism from the Cheltenham Gold Cup winning Minella Indo, ridden by Rachael Blackmore.
Clan Des Obeaux has not run since winning the Punchestown Gold Cup in April but Frodon has been in wining form of late, lifting Down Royal's Champion Chase eight weeks ago. Saint Calvados is making his debut for the Nicholls team having been absent since February.
The last Irish-trained winner was in 2005 through Kicking King, following his victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup earlier that year.
Minella Indo aims to complete the same double for trainer Henry de Bromhead on the back of finishing third behind Frodon at Down Royal on his reappearance.
Willie Mullins supplies the two other Irish contenders in Asterion Forlonge and Tornado Flyer as the Closutton handler attempts to win the the three-mile feature for a second time after Florida Pearl in 2001.
Nicky Henderson has three King Georges to his credit and is two-handed this time with Chantry House and Mister Fisher. However, the Seven Barrows handler is very wary of the opposition and Minella Indo in particular.
"I've got serious respect for all of them, but I still think the Gold Cup is rather like they say the Guineas is nearly always the best guide to the Derby. I think last year's Gold Cup winner is the horse we have to watch. We all know Frodon is a tough old devil, he's very hard to beat. It's a great race on paper," he said.
"As we all learnt at Cheltenham in March, the Irish squad is incredibly strong and so are those yards. Henry has got all those horses so he's got to spread them around, it's no surprise one was going to come over and Willie is bringing a couple.
"His grey horse (Asterion Forlonge) is pretty smart, too. I know he tipped up the other day, but he'd run a pretty good race. He belongs to Joe Donnelly who owns Shishkin, so I know the horse quite well."
Lostintranslation has been pulled up in the last two runnings of this race, but Colin Tizzard's charge showed he was back in good form when landing the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot last month.
Jeremy Scott's Dashel Drasher was the only withdrawal at the final declaration stage.
Clan Des Obeaux or Frodon most likely to make it lucky 13 for Nicholls
Despite having won the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase 12 times already, champion trainer Paul Nicholls is still hungry for lucky 13 and he believes that two of his three entries offer the greatest chance of success.
Clan Des Obeaux (twice) and Frodon have won the Kempton race before, while Saint Calvados was running a big race last year before tiring in the straight to finish fourth when with Harry Whittington.
Of course Nicholls will always be linked to the Christmas highlight through the exploits of Kauto Star, who won five to go one better than Desert Orchid, but already his last of those was 10 years ago.
"We've been very lucky to win the King George 12 times with some amazing horses. It's just a race we love having horses ready for. It's the mid-season Gold Cup, a proper race," said Nicholls.
"That day Kauto won his fifth was special. He'd come back to win his fourth Betfair Chase a month earlier and then to win a fifth King George, you'd almost say it will never be done again in our lifetimes, but who knows.
"I think this is up there with the strongest team we've had for the race, with two previous winners and a horse who ran so well in it last year, but it looks as good a race as it has for a long time as well.
"My view is that Clan and Frodon are the two to beat - they've won it before, they are the two champs."
Frodon was a surprise winner last year under Bryony Frost but backed it up when going to Down Royal first time out this season to beat Galvin and Minella Indo in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase.
"Frodon is A1. He's had a good prep. He had a quiet month after Down Royal but he's done lots of work since. He went very nicely in a racecourse gallop last week with Clan Des Obeaux," said Nicholls.
"He's schooled well, looks great, he's fresh. He's a typical horse who you know when he's in good shape, he's ready for his life again, he's in good order.
"To win races like the Ryanair and King George, to be tough and sound, you could always do with more horses like him. He's so game and always gives his all, he's been a fantastic servant."
Clan Des Obeaux disappointed in the race 12 months ago, but won at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring and Nicholls has made the decision to go for the King George first time out this year.
"I'm very happy with him. We set out our stall not to go to Haydock for the Betfair Chase this year and we thought we'd go a different route and go fresh," he said.
"Last year he had a very hard race in the Betfair Chase and he wasn't quite at his best in the King George after it.
"I think last spring he was at his very best and the cheekpieces seemed to sharpen him up a bit, he'd got in the habit of racing lazily. He was very impressive at Aintree and then beat Al Boum Photo, a dual Gold Cup winner, on his home ground at Punchestown. That was probably a career-best.
"I'm just trying to give him the best possible chance and I think he's a horse who is very dangerous when he's very fresh and fit, with a nice prep, which he's had.
"You know Frodon will jump and go a nice gallop and I dare say Harry (Cobden) will follow, you don't want to be out the back door like he was last year. They'll both run on their merits and be ridden accordingly. They'll both be forward as they both made all in their last races. Clan is happy with a lead."
The dark horse is Saint Calvados, also making his seasonal debut.
"He's settled in well but he's very good fresh and there weren't too many options, I didn't have him ready to give him a prep. He's taken a bit of work to get used to our system but I'm very happy with him now. He galloped the other day behind the other two. Gavin (Sheehan) rode him and was thrilled," said Nicholls.
"He ran well in the race last year but was just a bit sloppy with his jumping up the straight. Had he jumped the last three well, he'd have been a lot closer, so we've done a lot of work on his jumping."
Chantry House ready to go says Henderson
Nicky Henderson says Chantry House wont run flat at Kempton due to his proven top-class form at short of three miles.
Third to superstar stablemate Shishkin in the 2020 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Nicky Henderson's charge won the two-and-half-mile Marsh Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March before stepping to three miles and a furlong to win another Grade One, this time at Aintree.
His reappearance over three miles at Sandown last month was in a two-runner affair, and while on the face of it it proved uncompetitive Henderson was happy - and even happier after a piece of work last week under Nico de Boinville.
He said: "It (Sandown reappearance) was a two-horse race and he went round on his own, which technically proved nothing to anybody except you couldn't find a fault in him. (But) he went round and apparently in a very respectable time, too, considering he was doing it all on his own.
"He has had one spin around a racecourse and that really did wake him up last week. He didn't need a wake up, but you are going to have to be very sharp here. Three miles around Kempton is different. My plus for him is that until Aintree last year he was doing all his racing and winning over two and a half, including around Kempton.
"He's not a slow three-mile horse, we upped to him three miles at Aintree and he got it well. He had the solo at Sandown and was very good, but we haven't taught him to be a three-miler. The good thing is he's got some sort of natural pace and that helps around Kempton because they'll go quick, I think we know that, although if anyone goes quicker than Frodon then I think they are going quicker than the race needs to be run at.
"That sort of pace won't frighten him. He's just out of novice (company), of course, but he is sharp. He was very good the other day, and Nico was really happy with him. He's a very laid-back horse and that is in his favour, he's not going to be pulling and tugging and careering all over the place just because he is a two-and-a-half-mile horse."
Rain a bonus for Kempton officials
Barney Clifford wouldn't say no to the forecast rain ahead of the two-day Ladbrokes Christmas Festival at Kempton this weekend.
With little rain having fallen in December so far, the forecast of between 10 and 15 millimetres will be welcomed for the Sunbury track's biggest fixture of the year that features the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
However, with the ground on Monday being described as good, good to soft in places, Clifford expects the going to be no worse than good to soft.
"It's expected to get a bit cooler over the next couple of days, then getting milder again with rain pushing in on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day so we could get potentially 10 or 15 millimetres of rain in that period, which would be welcome," said Clifford.
"If we were racing today (Monday) you'd call it good, good to soft in places and that little bit of rain timing-wise would ease the ground a little bit. I'd have to say, at worse, it will be good to soft (on Boxing Day). I think it will be a mixture of the two."
As for the big race itself, Clifford picked out Irish raider Asterion Forlonge and dual winner Clan Des Obeaux as two to watch.
"The one horse for me in the John Durkan, had he not unseated or made a bad mistake, was Asterion Forlonge of Willie's (Mullins). He was the horse to take out of that race," he said.
"Paul (Nicholls) says he's never had Clan Des Obeaux better. It will be awesome. There will be some pace and one thing you'll have to do is not miss a fence."
The one indeterminable is the size of the crowd due to the possibility of Covid restrictions being reintroduced.
"We don't know at the minute what will happen. We're looking at different variables obviously and different scenarios and we've looked through all of those because we've been here before," added Clifford.
"We were the second racecourse back on the second of June 2020. Last year was a surreal experience having nobody here and I hope it doesn't go to that. We've got to be pragmatic and look at all the variables."
King George King Nicholls has heavyweight trio primed
12 times King George winner Paul Nicholls will be represented by Clan Des Obeaux, Frodon and Minella Indo for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Sunday.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux landed back-to-back runnings of the Boxing Day showpiece in 2018 and 2019, but could finish only third behind front-running stablemate Frodon and Bryony Frost 12 months ago.
Clan Des Obeaux is the narrow favourite to wrestle back the crown on what will be his seasonal reappearance, while Frodon made a successful start to his campaign at Down Royal in October.
Saint Calvados is a third runner for Nicholls as the Ditcheat handler bids to add to his record haul of 12 King George victories.
Asterion Forlonge to lead Willie Mullins pair
Asterion Forlonge will look to his the stratospehere at the head of a two-pronged attack by Willie Mullins on the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
The Closutton handler feels the seven-year-old will be suited by the right-handed track and is hoping Bryan Cooper will take the ride.
A general 6-1 chance for the three-mile showpiece, the talented grey, who has been prone to jumping errors, was in the process of running a big race in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown when he unseated his rider at the third-last fence.
"Asterion Forlonge will probably go for the King George and Bryan Cooper will probably ride if he is free," said Mullins, who won the King George 20 years ago with the Adrian Maguire-ridden Florida Pearl.
"He was running a very good race in the John Durkan (until blundering and unseating rider) and he is better going right-handed so that looks like an opportunity to have a crack at a good race."
Tornado Flyer, who stayed on well to take fifth place in the John Durkan, is likely to be Mullins' other runner in the three-mile showpiece.
"Tornado Flyer goes over there also and and I think we'll keep Al Boum Photo and Melon at home," said Mullins.
"We'll just see what happens and we haven't decided a lot of our Christmas plans. We'll see how we go in the meantime.
"I haven't thought about the novice chasers yet, although I'd imagine we'll look for a beginners' chase with Appreciate It, probably at Leopardstown where they are watering."