'Clan' takes King George to make it 10 of the best for Nicholls
Clan Des Obeaux provided Paul Nicholls with a 10th win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton - and now the Cheltenham Gold Cup is in his sights.
In an incident-packed renewal, for a brief moment it looked as if the 2016 winner Thistlecrack was about to roll back the years when he hit the front, but he had no answer after the last to a rival four years his younger.
Harry Cobden, in his first full season as stable jockey to Nicholls, was determined not to hit the front too soon and had the confidence to take a pull alongside Thistlecrack. A fine leap at the last sealed it and while the Colin Tizzard-trained Thistlecrack gamely stuck to his task for Tom Scudamore, he was beaten a length and half by the 12/1 winner, which is part-owned by Alex Ferguson.
Tizzard's Gold Cup winner Native River was under pressure for much of the race and stuck on for third, passing the winner's stablemate Politologue for minor honours.
There had been drama at halfway, when Bristol De Mai fell at the fence in front of the stands, badly hampering Waiting Patiently, who unseated Brian Hughes.
Coneygree ran well for a long way, but Nicky Henderson's Might Bite trailed home looking a shadow of the horse he was when winning 12 months ago. Clan Des Obeaux is now 12/1 from 50 for the Gold Cup with several bookmakers.
Nicholls said: "At Haydock (following the Betfair Chase) I got in the car with Harry Cobden afterwards and said 'you have got a headache now' as Politologue had just won at Ascot and I said 'what you are going ride?'.
"He said, 'I've not got a headache, there is only one I'm going to ride'. He has a lot of faith in the horse. He thought he ran really well the other day and it made a man of him.
"If you look at the form he didn't have much to make up on Thistlecrack the other day."
The victory returned Nicholls to the summit of the trainers' championship - a position he would love to be in at the end of the season.
Tizzard was delighted with Thistlecrack and said: "He is 10 coming on 11 and it was lovely for him to come back. We thought he was (back), but no one knows.
"I expect Native River will go to Newbury where he went last season, then on to Cheltenham. Thistlecrack, I'm not really sure."
A post-race examination revealed Might Bite had bled from the nose, while Henderson's Buveur D'Air had earlier suffered a shock defeat - albeit at the hands of stablemate Verdana Blue (11/2) which got up to pip the dual champion hurdler (1/4).
He had made a terrible error at the third-last, hardly taking off, though it barely checked his momentum and Barry Geraghty seemingly had everything under control as he took up the running from Global Citizen.
But after the last Nico de Boinville conjured a big run from Verdana Blue to claim the spoils.