Paul Nicholls and the King George VI Chase
For many sports fans within the United Kingdom, Boxing Day is often one of the most exciting dates on the calendar. December 26th is traditionally jam-packed with a full programme of sporting events, ranging from football matches at every level in the country to rugby union and rugby league fixtures and even horse racing meetings. When it comes to the latter, the King George VI Chase at Kempton is the one that stands out.
The historic race will have a different feel about it this year, as the Merseyside course will be without thousands of boisterous racegoers in the festive spirit. Instead, the 2020 edition will take place in front of a limited number of spectators, due to the ongoing coronavirus restrictions. However, in typical fashion, the best steeplechasers in the country will be lining up for Starters Orders come Boxing Day.
Clan Des Obeaux, who is currently the second favourite in the betting exchange, is vying for a third successive victory in the race, and his trainer Paul Nicholls will be all too familiar with the task at hand.
Nicholls is the leading trainer in the King George VI Chase with a whopping 11 wins since 1997. See More Business was the English trainer’s first prized asset, and he landed him his first King George in ’97 with Andrew Thornton in the saddle, before Mick Fitzgerald was triumphant on board him in 1999 – the same year the pair scooped Nicholls his first Cheltenham Gold Cup.
It wasn’t until 2006 that the 11-time Champion Trainer tasted glory in the King George again, but it turned out to be the start of a lengthy period of success for Nicholls. Kauto Star entered the 2006 race as the heavy favourite, and despite a scare as he hit the final hurdle, Ruby Walsh stayed on to win by eight lengths.
It was back-to-back victories for Kauto Star, who won the Gold Cup earlier in 2007. Only this time, the Irish jockey guided the gelding to a whopping 11-length victory, beating Our Vic and Exotic Dancer, who were second and third respectively.
Despite another mistake at the last hurdle in 2008, Kauto Star’s eight length victory meant that he was the first horse to win the race on three successive occasions since Desert Orchid’s triumphant spell between 1988 and 1990.
2009 marked four victories on the trot for Kauto Star, Walsh and Nicholls, and not only was he the first horse to win it four successive times, he also broke Arkle’s 44-year-old margin of victory. A huge 36 lengths separated the gelding from second place, meaning Arkle’s record was quashed by six lengths.
The 2010 King George was postponed due to snow, and with Walsh injured, AP McCoy was in the saddle for the rearranged meeting in January. It was a lacklustre performance from Kauto Star as he finished outside the top two for the first time, and it was the end of a winning streak for Nicholls. However, it wasn’t for long, as in 2011 Kauto Star and Walsh returned to Kempton, and the pair were back to winning ways, beating Long Run by just over a length.
2011 may have marked the final victory for Kauto Star, but it wasn’t the end for Nicholls, as Silviniaco Conti and Noel Fehily racked up back-to-back victories for the Champion Trainer in 2013 and 2014, before Clan Des Obeaux’s domination over the last two years.
Will it be three wins on the trot for Nicholls come Boxing Day? We’ll just have to wait and see!