Paul Nicholls bids to add to King George VI Chase tally at Kempton

Marcus Armytage
The Telegraph
Harry Cobden walks out alongside trainer Paul Nicholls - Getty Images Sport
Harry Cobden walks out alongside trainer Paul Nicholls - Getty Images Sport

The Ladbrokes King George VI Chase holds a special place in the affections of Paul Nicholls; when See More Business won it in 1997 the victory was pretty much his first big triumph as a trainer and he has gone on to annex Kempton’s Boxing day feature, winning it a further nine times, including five with the irreplaceable Kauto Star.

On Thursday he has two chances to make it win No 11 with Cyrname, the highest-rated steeplechaser in training and only horse to beat Altior over obstacles, and the defending King George champion Clan Des Obeaux. They are set to take on a maximum of five rivals, including the rising star of the staying chase ranks, Lostintranslation, Irish challenger Footpad and previous winner Thistlecrack.

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“They are both ideal horses for the race,” pointed out Nicholls. “It’s Cyrname’s first time at three miles but he did not look like a non-stayer to me when winning over two miles, five furlongs at Ascot. We have been aiming for this race since he won at Ascot last season.

“Of course, until it is in the book you never know, but if Cyrname can keep up his gallop for three miles…. Harry [Cobden, jockey] knows what he is doing. He does not have to make the running but it has suited him at Ascot.”

Twelve months ago Cyrname had yet to begin his winning streak and although capable of useful form he was not the horse he is now. 

Nicholls said: “Nobody could stop him. He would run off to the start, he would run off in the race and do it all on one breath. Then and now, both mentally and physically, it is like two different horses.

“He is not quirky but he was just mentally immature and I cannot help thinking he had a tough time at some stage as a young horse. He did not trust people and always seemed to be running away from us. He trusts us now and he is not terrified. He won’t change now, he will stay as he is.”

The seven-year-old’s owner, Johnny de la Hey has been a big investor in Ditcheat for some time and Nicholls is delighted to have come up trumps with such an exciting horse for him, even if there were some difficult days early on with Cyrname.

“He is a proper horse now and it would be nice to win a really big one for Johnny and his family,” said Nicholls. 

“I would take a lot of persuading to run him in the Cheltenham Gold Cup this season. He is only seven. He puts a lot into his races and I could see it completely bottoming him. He is not a Denman, he has plenty of speed and could win the right race over two miles if the ground was heavy.

“It is a conversation for after the King George, but he could skip Cheltenham and Aintree and go to Punchestown fresh.”

Although Nicholls has been careful to not get drawn into comparing Cyrname with Kauto Star, he has said, referring to Cyrname’s gallop at Wincanton in the autumn, that he had only had one other horse that could have put up the same performance and that was his five-time winner of Thursday’s race.

However, it is also not lost on the trainer that with the exception of last year’s victor Clan Des Obeaux – who has not had the chance to prove otherwise – that all his winners, See More Business (twice), Kauto Star (five times) and Silviniaco Conti (twice), won the race more than once and it lends itself to multiple winners. “It has been a great race for us,” he said. “Clan Des Obeaux likes going right, he jumps, he stays. I don’t think he is suited to three-and-a-quarter miles at Cheltenham either.”

Clearly his first win in the race will always mean a lot to Nicholls because it set him on the road but he is adamant nothing compares to the reaction to Kauto Star’s fifth win in 2011. “The crowd’s reception for him was unbelievable, it was one of the best days,” he stated. “People latched on to the fact that 10 is a great number last year and anything on top of that would be a bonus but you have got to look forward and it is nice to have two horses good enough to run. It is a very special race.”

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