Nicholls duo ‘in really good order’

ALMOST 12 months have passed since Kauto Star’s dethroning by Long Run in the last William Hill King George VI Chase, but trainer Paul Nicholls believes Kempton racegoers will see a different horse on Monday.

Kauto Star resumes his quest for a historic fifth King George, with connections taking great encouragement from his reversal of form over his considerably younger rival in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

The heroic eight-length defeat of Nicky Henderson’s Long Run last month obliterated the depressing memory of Kauto Star being pulled up at Punchestown in May, and persuaded Nicholls and owner Clive Smith to allow him to join stablemate Master Minded in the Christmas showdown.

The trainer, who has already collected an unequalled six King Georges himself, reports the pair to have enjoyed an unhindered preparation.

“They’re both in really good order,” he said.

“They have just been doing routine work all week, all the serious work has been done, and we’re just really looking forward to seeing them run.”

Nicholls had earlier said of Kauto Star: “I didn’t want to be rushed into making a decision about the King George after Haydock but it amazed me how he got over the race and I think he’s a better horse than last year.

“I watched the King George again, and no way did he run anywhere near his best.

“I’m so fond of the horse, everybody’s enjoying seeing him and while he can compete like that he deserves to be there.

“You’ve got to respect Long Run, he’s last year’s winner but Kauto keeps breaking all the rules and if he runs like he did at Haydock, he’s got to have a big chance of winning again.”

Ruby Walsh knows Kauto Star better than anyone, having ridden the majestic 11-year-old in each of his King George victories as well as his two Gold Cups.

“Paul and I think he is probably better going the other way, but he has a great record at Kempton,” said Walsh.

“Long Run is obviously going to improve and Paul had made no secret of the fact he had Kauto spot on (at Haydock).

“I’d imagine Nicky Henderson had bigger things in mind and he got caught on the day – he’s the one we have to beat and he’ll be sharper and fitter.”

Walsh has also ridden Master Minded, the mount of Daryl Jacob, many times before and is not concerned the horse is stepping up to three miles for the first time.

“I don’t see any issue with him staying, as he has got older he wants a trip,” he told Racing UK.

“He settled well at Ascot and jumped super for Daryl, he’ll get a great ride off him.

“I’ve ridden in a lot of King Georges, you either stay or you don’t. You can’t go round and hope you stay.”

Henderson has been putting Long Run through his paces and believes he has the defending champion spot-on.

“He jumped five fences this morning, he did his work yesterday and everything has gone totally according to plan,” said Henderson.

“He’s definitely straight now, how straight he was at Haydock, I don’t know, but he’s definitely there now anyway.”

Captain Chris is another to be taking a step into the unknown as the longest trip he has tackled is two and a half miles.

Last year’s Arkle and Punchestown Festival winner has only been seen out once this season, looking to have every chance in Exeter’s Haldon Gold Cup before unseating jockey Richard Johnson at the last.

“He seems in very good form at home and I’m looking forward to it,” said Johnson.

“Obviously the three-mile trip is the unknown factor, but he finished off his races last year very well and, fingers crossed, hopefully he has a very good chance.

“Ideally he wouldn’t want too much rain, as the better the ground, the better he is.

“He’s taking on the very best on Monday but he goes there in very good order.”

Henrietta Knight, famed for her King George exploits with Edredon Bleu and Best Mate, is keen to step Somersby up to this distance.

Regularly placed at the highest level, the seven-year-old chased home Master Minded in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot before finishing behind Gauvain in the Peterborough Chase.

“It’s quite a tough race to start at three miles in, but I’m sure that will be the answer in the long run,” Knight said.

“He ran well at Ascot but rooted out the third-last fence which didn’t help. Had he jumped that he probably would have been closer.

“I know it’s probably a two-horse race between Long Run and Kauto Star and maybe Master Minded as well, but we are longing to run him.

“I think he’s a trier, it’s just he can’t quicken at the end of his races over a shorter distance.”

Barry Geraghty was formally booked to partner Nick Williams’ former Hennessy winner and Betfair fourth Diamond Harry, with Nacarat and Golan Way completing an unchanged line-up at declaration time.

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