The big news yesterday concerned Nicholls’ decision to confirm Kauto Star would be joining stablemate Master Minded in the Stephen’s Day showpiece at Kempton, for which the treasured chaser will be seeking his fifth victory.
The last renewal of the King George saw him manage only third, beaten 19 lengths by an impressive Long Run, and he managed little better in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
But Nicholls has taken great heart from the fact Kauto Star finished well in front of his Nicky Henderson-trained rival in last month’s memorable Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Explaining the decision to run his stalwart alongside Master Minded, who is also owned by Clive Smith, the trainer said: “I had a chat with Clive as well as the lad who rides him every day and we felt that when they are really well, you’ve got to run them.
“Lots can change, but at this stage I’m really happy with him.
“He had a hard race at Haydock but in some years he’d had a couple of runs before the King George.
“I don’t think he was right last year – I don’t quite know why – but he seems a lot better in himself at the moment.”
Referring to the Betfair Chase, Nicholls continued: “Long Run is the horse to beat and I know he’s going to improve for the run but he’s got to find eight lengths on us.
“I know Nicky says he will come on for it, but you are not going to run Long Run in a £200,000 race if he’s not anywhere near ready.
“He looked fit to me, and I don’t think he’s going to improve as much as everyone thinks. It’s a totally different track, and it’s going to be a very interesting race.
“If Kauto runs at his best, like he did at Haydock, he’s got a massive chance.”
Nicholls confirmed Ruby Walsh will be aboard Kauto Star, with Daryl Jacob on dual Champion Chase winner Master Minded, who scored at Ascot last month but is stepping up to three miles for the first time.
“Ruby was never going to get off Kauto and Daryl rode Master Minded the other day,” Nicholls said.
“Kauto looks to be our number one, but don’t write off Master Minded. He showed huge improvement at Ascot and is sharper, fitter and stronger. He could do no more than he did the other day and likes a flat track. I don’t know if he’ll stay, but we’ll find out.”
Long Run’s owner Robert Waley-Cohen had joined Nicholls at a lunch in London to promote the King George, but was soon pre-occupied.
His son, Sam, Long Run’s jockey, had briefly looked in danger of missing the ride through suspension when found guilty of taking the wrong course on Otage De Brion with a circuit to run of a handicap chase at Fakenham.
The stewards gave him a 12-day ban, but it will not begin until January 1 and only applies to days when there are races for amateurs.
“It’s a huge relief and I’m thrilled for Sam to be able to show what he’s made of,” said Robert Waley-Cohen later.
“He was beaten off a mark of 158 in the Paddy Power last year and went on to win the King George, and now he’s running off 182.
“You’d have to say the Haydock run was better than the Paddy Power and maybe he’s a tricky horse to motivate first time.
“Kauto Star was absolutely brilliant at Haydock but hopefully Long Run will do the same as he did last year and improve.
“He has run twice at Kempton and was outstanding in the Feltham and outstanding in the King George. There’s no reason why he won’t be outstanding again.”
Another confirmed King George runner is 2010 Hennessy winner Diamond Harry, who was fourth in the Betfair Chase on his first start since his Newbury success.