11 time champion trainer Paul Nicholls is bullish about the chances of his star chaser Clan Des Obeaux in the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday, with the gelding looking to regain his title having won the race in 2019.
Last season he started his term off over in Northern Ireland in November with Nicholls sending him into the Grade One Champion Chase at Down Royal and he finished a smart second behind Road To Respect and it worked out to be the perfect prep run ahead of the King George VI.
He went on to become a dual King George winner on Boxing Day and will look to add a third on the 26th having had a superb prep run at Haydock.
Having not gone down the same route as last year with heading over to Down Royal, Nicholls took Clan Des Obeaux to the Merseyside track for the Grade One Betfair Chase.
Having ran a stormer the whole way round, the heavy ground in the final stages told and saw him finish a close second to triple winner of the race Bristol De Mai.
The gelding after that headed back to Kempton looking for his third straight win in the race but unfortunately it was not to be and he could only plug on for third on the day behind stablemate Frodon.
Nicholls has given him some time off since that race and with him not going to Cheltenham, this event acts as a perfect stepping stone for Aintree in April.
He will take on the leading British hope for the Gold Cup in Champ for the first time in his career, but Nicholls is still bullish on his chances.
(Credit ATR) “It’s quite an encounter and a great-looking race.“Champ won the RSA Chase last year. Where he is at the top of the market is a bit more on reputation than what he’s achieved at the moment – he’s going to go up against these Grade One warriors like Clan Des Obeaux, who has won King Georges.
“It’s a step up for Champ. He’s a talented horse, and it will be interesting on Saturday to see how he does go.”
Nicholls has reflected on his geldings run in the King George this season and now believes he knows where it all went wrong.
He added: “It didn’t quite happen in the King George. He got further behind than we really wanted and if we were to run the race again he’d have sat closer to Frodon.
“He got a little bit behind and made a mistake at the first fence down the back the second time, and was then on the back foot. I think he did very well to finish as close as he did, but it was just one of those races that didn’t work out.
“He did have a hard race in the Betfair Chase at Haydock as well, probably a harder race than we really wanted, to be honest.
“He seems very fresh and well again now. Harry (Cobden) schooled him this (Tuesday) morning, and I’d say he’s right back to his best, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Looking ahead t after this event all being well he will be going to Aintree with the Betway Bowl a big target for the nine year old, who does not get on with the track at Cheltenham and will be skipping the festival.
He said: “He’s not entered at Cheltenham. He doesn’t like it there, and a flat track suits him better.“Aintree (Betway Bowl) will be ideal – and if things have changed (with travel restrictions) then we’ll have a look at Punchestown.
“There is only one race to run him in between Newbury and Aintree, and that’s at Kelso – so you never know, he might end up there.
“If we go to Aintree this year he’ll be going there fresh, which will make a massive difference.”