The King George VI Chase remains the party showpiece at Kempton Park and looks like a high-quality makeover with last season winner Frodon joining Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo and five other Grade One winners. .
Conor Stroud he tells us about the runners for the blue ribbon event in Santo Stefano and gives his verdict of a great race.
Asterion Forlonge (Jockey: Bryan Cooper, Coach: Willie Mullins)
This enigmatic seven-year-old appears to have all the skills, but has yet to put them all together on the big stage.
A Grade One winner as a novice hurdler, he struggled to make a first impression on fences with two consecutive falls and some lackluster jumps behind the likes of Colreevy, Monkfish and Chantry House.
However, he got a Punchestown handicap at the end of last season and looked like the likely winner of the John Durkan when he reappeared the season before ousting Bryan Cooper three outs.
If – and it’s a great if – he can jump smoothly and handle the away pass, he could go very close for Willie Mullins’ side.
Chantry House (J: Nico De Boinville, T: Nicky Henderson)
For a horse that has already won grade one races at both the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree, Chantry House is probably a bit underrated for the Seven Barrows team.
The talking point after his success at Cheltenham was the fall of Envoi Allen, and it was widely considered that Espoir De Romay would have won had he not fallen at Aintree.
That said, he’s back with a bloodless win over The Big Breakaway in Sandown and is expected to be ripe for Sunday so he must have every chance even if he’s been a bit overlooked by the market.
Clan Des Obeaux (J: Harry Cobden, T: Paul Nicholls)
A two-time winner of this race, Paul Nicholls picked his races to perfection with Clan Des Obeaux, who put a bad race behind them in Kempton last season to get grade one races in both Aintree and Punchestown, beating Al Boum Photo in the latter.
Nicholls himself admitted that driving him at Haydock last season was a mistake and probably the reason for his flat run at King George.
He makes his seasonal reappearance this time at Kempton and is sure to be good for the fit Ditcheat manager.
Frodon (J: Bryony Frost, T: Paul Nicholls)
Last year’s King George winner has partnered seamlessly with Bryony Frost, and would be a fairytale winner for the rider if she could return to Kempton after what has been a tough year off the track.
A match winner in the Down Royal Champion Chase last time – defeating Minella Indo in the process – comes to this race in form, but there is slight doubt that others may have had this as their goal for the season, unlike Frodon. .
He will go hard from the front but may have a hard time defeating faster rivals.
Lostin (J: Brendan Powell, T: Paul Nicholls)
Like Colin Tizzard’s shipyard, Lostintranslation has enjoyed a resurgent campaign so far, bouncing back with victory in a competitive 1965 Chase at Ascot. However, he flopped this race in 2019 after dominating Betfair Chase at Haydock.
If he’s back to his best, he must have a chance, but one might think he’ll need to improve his run at Ascot, having beaten the likes of Master Tommytucker and Defi Du Seuil who didn’t do much for form.
Minella Indo (J: Rachael Blackmore, T: Henry De Bromhead)
Last season’s Gold Cup heroine Minella Indo returned with a run behind Frodon and Galvin at Down Royal that was a bit underwhelming, although trainer Henry De Bromhead admitted the horse would have entered for the ride, but he will need it.
There is also slight doubt that he might prefer more than an endurance test, but he might get it if Frodon adopted his usual front-running tactics. It must have all the possibilities, but perhaps one to deal with at the prices.
Mister Fisher (J: Sean Bowen, T: Nicky Henderson)
He has bits of form to suggest he might run well, but remains a spirited outsider on balance.
He was a neck behind Frodon in his last run at Sandown but will have to improve on that. He has brittleness in jumping and has been pulled over in two of his last five starts.
The yard has a more likely winner at Chantry House and can be readily countered.
San Calvados: (J: Gavin Sheehan, T: Paul Nicholls)
The outsider of Sunday’s Nicholls three darts, Saint Calvados makes his first departure for the Ditcheat manager after moving out of Harry Whittington’s backyard in the summer.
If he can regain the form that saw him finish neck behind Min in the 2020 Ryanair Chase, he would have a fair chance in any direction.
Probably another one that cannot be trusted with some irregular shape in the past 18 months.
Tornado Flyer (J: Danny Mullins, T: Willie Mullins)
Another who looks like a stable second rope often runs well in defeats, but has not yet reached the top level.
Danny Mullins takes the ride and is likely to be ridden for a seat, so he may be earning late to snatch a spot. However, it’s probably best to leave him alone for the purposes of victory.
Great race verdict
In arguably one of the King George’s most competitive renewals in the past decade, realistic cases can be made for at least six of the nine runners.
At a price each way, it might be worth the risk Asterion Forlonge who has the pace and class to compete at this level. If his jump holds up, he could be the horse to bring Gold Cup winner Bryan Cooper back into the spotlight.
Clan Des Obeaux he won’t be easily dismissed and can run another big race in Kempton’s flagship for Cobden and Nicholls, having missed previous targets at Haydock and Down Royal to run fresh on Boxing Day.
Minella Indo he could be overtaken in these fast three miles, but he could very well stay to finish third. Whatever happens, it will definitely be a Christmas cracker.