Paul Nicholls is not putting any pressure on stable jockey Harry Cobden, as decision day over his Ladbrokes King George VI Chase mount looms — with either Sam Twiston-Davies or Sean Bowen likely to pick up a cracking spare ride.
The young pilot is in the enviable position of choosing between Clan Des Obeaux, who was last year’s winner of the Christmas highlight, and Cyrname, the new star of National Hunt racing. While Cobden was aboard Clan Des Obeaux 12 months ago, in Cyrname he could ride the horse who ended Altior’s 19-race unbeaten streak at Ascot.
Whichever way Cobden leans, Nicholls has replacements in mind for the ‘discarded’ runner.
“I’ve got it all sorted. If Harry rides Clan, Sean Bowen will ride Cyrname and if it is the other way round Sam Twiston-Davies will ride Clan,” said the champion trainer. “Harry has probably made his mind up, but I’ve said not to make a decision until the end of this week, as anything can go wrong.
“I said it would be hard to get off Cyrname, as he won those three good races and he looks a good ride — he goes forward and he jumps brilliantly. I think it’s a very hard call, as you also have last year’s winner and he looks great and he has had a great preparation.
“I’m not going to influence Harry at all. The only thing I’ve said is, ‘you ride what you think on the day has the best chance of winning’.”
Clan Des Obeaux has had one run this year, when second to Road To Respect at Down Royal.
“He looks absolutely fantastic. He is still only a young horse and you can see he has improved physically from a year ago,” said Nicholls. “He won the race very nicely last year, then won the Denman Chase and he probably didn’t stay in the Gold Cup.
“He had a lovely run around Down Royal the other day. “He was always going to go there, as that was going to give me lots of time to get him ready for Kempton. He has won on all sorts of ground and he will get three miles on soft ground at Kempton.
“I’ve been watching Scott (Marshall) working and riding him and I know he is pleased with him and you can see he has got that way about him at the moment.”
Cyrname is the ante-post favourite, having downed the mighty Altior at Ascot.
“He is a different type of horse altogether. He looks great, too. He has come out of the race at Ascot really well. Whatever happened that day, they (Cyrname and Altior) both had a tough race, as any good race at that level will be tough,” said Nicholls.
Previously Nicholls has been keen to stick to right-handed tracks with Cyrname — a bit of a “tearaway” in his early days — but thinking of March he no longer sees it as a big issue.
“I don’t think the left-handed thing will be an issue and when we had that it was two years ago and it is like we have had two different horses now,” said the Ditcheat handler. "One day we will go back left-handed when the right race is there for him, but Kempton, Sandown, and Ascot suit him well on those right-handed tracks and there are good races for him.
“He is like two different horses compared to a year ago. He was trying to do everything on one breath and he used to tear down to the start. We couldn’t particularly train him how we wanted to at home, as he was literally a tearaway and we used to just lob him up the hill every day.
“He got beat at Ascot last November and we changed tack to see if we could train him normally and for some reason he clicked into the routine and we never looked back.
“Like Harry said, you don’t have to make it with him, as when Terrefort took him on in the Scilly Isles two years ago he got a lead off him for a good way and dropped in behind him. We have got no worry if something wants to go a good gallop.
“The fact he has had a run will sharpen him up, it will also sharpen his jumping up as much as anything, but he was a bit steppy at one or two and a bit brave and he was quite fresh, so all that will have come out of him.”