The King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day is one of the highlights of Christmas racing and this year Bravemansgame bids to fulfil a long-term ambition for Paul Nicholls.
The trainer hopes his plan – that has been 12 months in the making – will come to fruition on Boxing Day for Bravemansgame, who he insists is ready for what he feels will be his toughest test yet.
The Ditcheat handler will be triple handed in his bid to secure a record-extending 13th success in the Grade One feature with both stablemates Hitman, and 2020 winner Frodon joining the seven year-old, who is the Favourite with race sponsor Ladbrokes.
After seeing his colours lowered over fences for the first time when finishing last in the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April, Bravemansgame registered a stylish success on his return to action in the Grade Two bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October.
With Bravemansgame already having one course and distance Grade One in the bag following his victory in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase last year, Nicholls hopes he can now add another to his CV in the festive showpiece.
Nicholls, speaking at a media event organised by The Jockey Club, said: “He looks in good shape and we have had a great preparation with him.
“He went to the Charlie Hall and he was probably ready enough to run as he did but he wasn’t fully wound up. He travelled well and jumped well and won nicely.
“We have done a lot with him since then as we want him ready for his life a week on Monday. He has had a great preparation and looks fantastic. He has got plenty of condition on him.
“He used to go a little bit light on us after Christmas but we found out he had problems with ulcers but we are on top of that now. We have changed the feed this season which has been big plus all across the board and the horses look great.
“Scott (Marshall, work rider) loves him and he is very happy with him as well. We have done everything we need to do pretty well and we will just keep on ticking over.
“He won at Kempton last year and the track suits him well, a flat right-handed track. “I’ve always thought this would be Bravemansgame target ever since he won the Kauto Star last year. He has always been prepared for it.
“It probably is his toughest test as he gone through his novice races and he has won his first race out of novice company this year. He is now into the big boys league in the biggest race there is over Christmas.”
Nicholls confirmed that Harry Cobden would ride Bravemansgame with Sam Twiston-Davies partnering Hitman and Bryony Frost will continue her association with Frodon, provided she makes it back in time from a recent spell on the sidelines.
He added: “Harry will ride Bravemansgame, Sam Twiston-Davies will ride Hitman and Bryony will ride Frodon assuming she is fit, if not Lorcan Williams will ride Frodon. He is sitting there as a first reserve.
“Lorcan rode Hitman last season but Sam has won big races for Ged (Mason) and Sir Alex (Ferguson). Harry, at the moment, wouldn’t get off Bravemansgame to get on Hitman as he has won those Grade Ones on him and he is very happy to ride him.
“He only wouldn’t ride him if he didn’t run. Hopefully everything goes right next week and we look forward to the big day. If it is good to soft ground or soft ground it will be perfect.
“Bravemansgame probably deserves to be favourite as he has won this year and he has won the Kauto Star around the track and he seems to be progressing but at the end of the day they don’t know what price they are.”
The 13-time champion Jump trainer expects the step up to three miles to bring out further improvement from last time out Haydock Park scorer Hitman, who is part owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
He said: “Hitman is rated 160 which is only four pounds beyond Bravemansgame which isn’t a long way. He has been placed in a Tingle Creek, Haldon Gold Cup and other Grade One races and he is only six years old.
“Clan (Des Obeaux) won the King George for the first time as a six year old rated 160 so he is on the right sort of lines. He was always going to improve as he got stronger and better and he has achieved a lot for a young horse.
“He ran well in the Old Roan the first time when needing the run. He ran very well at Haydock the last day just having a canter round but he jumped brilliantly. I think three miles will bring plenty of improvement in him. You can see he is a fine big chaser.
“A lot of people question his resolution as he was second so many times but he was only a young horse. We have just been minding him a little bit but now we think he is the finished article.
“It is the unknown (going three miles), of course it is. We know Bravemansgame gets the three miles well at Kempton, and he hasn’t yet but he got the trip well at Haydock the other day and I think he is crying out for this trip.
“I think up to now he probably hasn’t been man enough or strong enough to get the trip but he is ready now.”
Frodon sprung a 20/1 surprise when claiming glory in the race two years ago and while Nicholls believes he will have to produce a ‘career best’ to prevail again, he also believes he is no forlorn hope.
He said: “He won the race two years ago but he is not getting any younger. He was never right last season after he ran at Down Royal but a lot of ours were not right in the spring. He got injured in the Ultima as he got jumped into.
“He had a nice break came back and won the Badger Ales Chase at Wincanton. I ran him too soon in the Betfair Chase but we went up there to pick up some prize money.
“He will have a nice gap between Haydock Park and Kempton and he never stops surprising you at his age. Whether he has got the legs of the younger horses is debatable but he will be there or thereabouts but he will give Bryony a fantastic ride.
“He has been there done it and got the T-Shirt and he is certainly as good now as he has ever been but it would want to be a near career-best for him to win but you never know with him.
“You have to respect him as he is a previous winner of the race but he has got plenty to do against those younger lads as he is 10 going on 11 but look at Kauto Star – he won it as an 11 year old.”
Photograph: By John Hoy, courtesy of The Jockey Club
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