Former champion trainer Paul Nicholls won his tenth 32Red King George VI Chase courtesy of Clan Des Obeaux following a dramatic renewal of the Grade One feature race at Kempton Park on Boxing Day (26 December).
Under young jockey Harry Cobden, enjoying his first win in the big race, the six-year-old son of Kapgarde battled it out with the Colin Tizzard-trained Thistlecrack, the 2016 victor, up the home run.
The pair drew clear of the 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River, who finished third, and 12/1 shot Clan Des Obeaux held on to win by 1½ lengths.
Paul, who won the race five times with Kauto Star and twice apiece with See More Business and Silviniaco Conti, said: “After Haydock [in the Betfair Chase where Clan Des Obeaux finished fourth], I said to Harry ‘What are you going to ride in the King George? You’ve got a headache now’ and he said ‘there is only one horse I am going to ride and that is Clan Des Obeaux, he is on top-class form and he’ll come on’ and Harry was right. You have to have a real stayer to win this race — you look at the horse he’s beaten there [Thistlecrack], that is a serious horse. Haydock did Clan Des Obeaux a lot of good and made a man of him, and Harry gave him a peach of a ride.”
Harry, who is Paul’s number one stable jockey, added: “I’ve grown up watching the King George, and I never thought I would be in the position to ride a winner in it — I’m speechless. I was flat out the whole way; I knew Thistlecrack would tow us down to the last fence. Clan Des Obeaux never does anything in front, so it was a bold decision to hold onto him for as long as possible. When I did say ‘go’ he pricked his ears — it was fantastic.”
Clan Des Obeaux’s stablemate, Politologue, finished eventual fourth in the incident-filled three-mile contest, which saw the Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai and Waiting Patiently crash out just before heading onto the second circuit.
Coneygree set the pace from the outset but blundered and unseated his jockey Sean Bowen two out, while the favourite Might Bite ran disappointingly, weakening three out to finish eventual seventh. His trainer, Nicky Henderson, revealed afterwards that the 2017 winner had indeed bled and was being treated by the vets.
There was upset in the Grade One Unibet Christmas Hurdle, when the Nicky Henderson-trained Verdana Blue beat her stablemate, the dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air.
The short-priced favourite, who runs in the famous green and gold silks of JP McManus, was shaken up before the last by Barry Geraghty, before being caught on the line by Verdana Blue, under Nico de Boinville, in a photo finish.
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