Ten runners remain in the King George VI Chase at 15:05 after Monday's confirmation stage in what looks a fascinating renewal.
Paul Nicholls is playing a strong hand saddling last year's winner, Frodon who's bidding to defend his crown as well as 2019 and 2018 victor, Clan Des Obeaux. Added to those two there's the small matter of the Gold Cup hero, Minella Indo who represents the all-conquering, Henry De Bromhead yard.
The forecast this week is dry until Friday and Saturday afternoon. The latest ground update at the time of writing was on December 19 where the going was listed as good, good to soft in places and a going stick reading of 7.1 on the chase course. There's the potential for 10mm to 15mm of rain before Boxing Day but good to soft conditions should probably be anticipated at this early stage.
Here's my take on all 10 runners:
Clan Des Obeaux needs to buck significant trend
We begin with the 2018 and 2019 winner, Clan Des Obeaux who makes his reappearance start in this year's Boxing Day feature.
He was sent off as favourite for last season's renewal yet could only finish eight-and-a-quarter lengths third behind stablemate, Frodon. He wasn't ideally positioned in that run as he was held up in rear behind the steady pace being set by the eventual winner. He ran well considering he had to mount his challenge against the pace bias.
He's had an entirely different preparation for this year's race as the feeling was that the Betfair Chase left a mark on him just a month before last season's King George.
If any trainer can prepare a horse to make a winning reappearance start in the most prestigious chase other than the Gold Cup, it's Paul Nicholls. However, horses having their reappearance start in the King George doesn't make for favourable reading.
The form figures of runners making their seasonal debut in this race this century read as 4UP6P2P2P7 so Clan Des Obeaux is going to have to buck a significant trend to be winning on his return.
There is no doubt though that this track and trip play to all his strengths and this has very much been the target for Clan Des Obeaux since his win in the Punchestown Gold Cup where he overturned Al Boum Photo.
Minella Indo the one to beat
The 2021 Gold Cup hero, Minella Indo is up next on the back of his reappearance at Down Royal in the Grade 1 Champion Chase where he finished third.
That latest outing looked very much like a reappearance start where it was reported that he wasn't 100% tuned up and was carrying condition. He still ran well despite not being fully fit to finish third behind Frodon and Galvin, showing his wellbeing as much as anything else in the run.
He tracked Frodon throughout the race, jumping well and showing plenty of pace as well. He mounted his challenge before clipping the top of the second last fence which halted his momentum. He looked to blow up as the front two extended away from him. Minella Indo stuck to the task well but the feeling was that the form would be reversed as the season progressed.
That form line will be put to the test here as Frodon was tuned to perfection for that race whereas Minella Indo will only be peaking now.
He clearly showed in both the Down Royal reappearance and his win in the Gold Cup that he has ample pace which will suit Kempton's speedy nature. He was also very clever with his jumping throughout the Gold Cup, dancing his feet around at the boards when needing to go short but displaying scope when asked up for a long stride.
That was the best sight after his progression was halted due to jumping issues in the middle part of last season. The jumping turnaround has been spectacular and something regularly associated with Henry De Bromhead. Minella Indo has the chance for a proper run at this season and looks the horse to beat.
Frodon might not have it all his own way
A horse who, I think it's fair to say quite confidently now, has a cult following such is his honest way of racing and partnership with Bryony Frost. It's quite difficult to believe that Frodon is still just a nine-year-old.
Frodon wins his races by getting into a rhythm on the front-end of the pace, catching his rivals off-guard and continuing to jump the opposition into submission when the pace lifts. Those tactics were deployed to optimal effect in the King George last season where he made his way to the front and didn't make a single mistake throughout the race.
Very often at the top level in this country, there is a hesitancy from jockeys to make a move too soon or to change tactics from plan A. This fear of making a decisive move or to stray from the original plan means that a horse such as Frodon is able to dictate a race to optimal effect.
No doubt his rivals' jockeys will be live to that this year however, that isn't to say that many will then be able to do much about it.
Bryony Frost will take Frodon forwards again in this race, why stray from winning tactics of course? However, this year there will be much more competition for the lead from the likes of Dashel Drasher and Mister Fisher. Frodon has been known to sulk in the past when not allowed his own way out in front so this year's renewal may not go as perfectly for Frodon as the last.
He was also ready for his life for his reappearance start at Down Royal in the Grade 1 Champion Chase and fair play to connections for having him ready to take that prize. There was a consensus that form may be reversed further down the line and that might play out at Kempton.
Inconsistent jumping may cost Asterion Forlonge
The enigma that is Asterion Forlonge who flips between resembling a Grade 1 winning chaser in waiting and a bowling ball.
Many felt that he should have won the John Durkan last time out at Punchestown which looked one of the strongest renewals ever. However, the righthanded jumping demon that lives in Asterion Forlonge's head once again came to the fore.
At least he's again going the right way around here but that's always going to be a concern as there's only so much schooling that can be done with a horse who randomly decides to jump out to his right.
The frustration for connections and his jockey is that he jumps well in the main and is neat and accurate. Yet it's when the pace really lifts into top gear that his lugging away to his right, running down his fences comes into full effect. Proving that you cannot prepare or train for everything at home.
For all Asterion Forlonge clearly has immense ability, it's so difficult to know exactly what he's going to do. Especially at this level when pressure being poured on is inevitable and the faults of any horse are revealed.
I'm expecting Asterion Forlonge to once again, be ridden down the inside rail to try and keep him as straight as possible.
The main positive for Asterion Forlonge at Kempton is that the fences are situated on the inside track meaning the running rail is alongside for the entire race.
Unlike at Punchestown where the fences are on the outer track and only two obstacles on the entire circuit have a running rail on the landing side of the fence. The running rail joins after the final fence and the first fence after the finish line. If a horse regularly jumps out to his right, then a track like Punchestown certainly wouldn't help to resolve the issue.
Kempton's inside rail should aid Asterion Forlonge in jumping much straighter.
Chantry House can play a big role
Nicky Henderson may well divide opinion nowadays with his campaigning of his horses but there is no doubt that he continues to produce some of the brightest stars in National Hunt racing.
Chantry House certainly looks one of those huge talents and we still don't know how good he is yet. Part of that wonder is due to the conservative campaigning he's had.
Yet this was also the case last season where the concern was whether he'd had the necessary experience to win at the Cheltenham Festival. Just like that, he comfortably wins the Marsh Novices' Chase where he had the reopposing Asterion Forlonge five-lengths back in third.
Of course, that form at the time was taken with a pinch of salt due to Envoi Allen falling at the fourth fence. However, the form of that Grade 1 is looking more and more convincing despite Envoi Allen not appearing to be quite the horse most expected since his stable switch. However, Asterion Forlonge and Shan Blue have certainly shaped like two of the most talented horses in training despite jumping frailties letting them down.
Chantry House was less convincing when winning at Aintree but may have been showing the toll of the season by April.
Henderson found him an ideal seasonal debut in a usual, small-runner field Listed Intermediate Chase at Sandown where he bolted up. He merely showed his well-being but is sure to play a significant role here.
Course questions to answer for Lostintranslation
If there is one horse who embodies the change in fortunes of the Colin Tizzard yard, it's Lostintranslation.
A horse who looked to have the world at his feet following his sustained dual with Defi Du Seuil during the 2018/19 season. He then looked as if he'd work his way up into being the leading British hope for the 2020 Gold Cup.
That status gained following his wins in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle and the Betfair Chase where he claimed the scalp of Bristol De Mai.
Those successes lead to him going off as a lead fancy for the King George but he never looked happy throughout the contest resulting in him pulling up. He reportedly flipped his pallet in that run which saw him have a wind operation subsequently. He instantly showed the benefits of that surgery by finishing third in the Gold Cup.
Last season was a total write off, failing to fire in the Betfair Chase, pulling up again in the King George before two more nothingy runs.
He looked an entirely different animal on his reappearance start at Ascot in the Grade 2 1965 Chase however, holes can be picked in that form. Master Tommytucker looked to do too much on the frontend, Dashel Drasher didn't have his ideal softer conditions and Defi Du Seuil doesn't look the force of old.
I'm also concerned that Lostintransation may suffer from the same issues that Imperial Commander did around Kempton.
Imperial Commander ran twice in the King George where he disappointed on each occasion however, he won the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup on his next starts.
Kempton is a track that doesn't suit a certain type of horse and I fear that Lostintranslation may fit that profile also. However, if he disappoints here, that isn't to say he should be ruled out of a Gold Cup tilt.
Saint Calvados returns after long absence
Paul Nicholls's third entrant in the King George is Saint Calvados who makes his stable debut as well as his reappearance. He's another horse who has promised so much in his career most notably, when finishing second by a neck behind Min in the Ryanair Chase at the 2020 Festival.
He made his reappearance start in the King George last year where he was keen throughout, showing freshness as much as anything else. Gavin Sheehan was forced therefore, to get as much cover as possible early which saw him ridden in rear. However, Sheehan was live to the steady pace and got Saint Calvados into a more prominent position.
He looked the most likely winner when swinging into the home straight but tired when likely paying for his early exertions. He then made a final fence error which saw him lose two places near the finish.
His only run since then was when unseating in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase which had been moved to Sandown. It's been disappointing that we haven't seen him since that departure but he's certainly a horse with a lot of ability.
I fear about him being keen on this return from a 10-month absence and that freshness is the biggest concern for his chances.
A watching brief for Mister Fisher
Nicky Henderson is also represented by Mister Fisher as he makes his seasonal debut. Mister Fisher may well provide another pace angle in the race and could throw down a challenge to Frodon on the frontend.
He had a very hit and miss season last campaign where he pulled up on his reappearance in the Paddy Power Gold Cup before winning the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham. He wasn't seen again until pulling up in the Ryanair Chase where he was just one of many rivals Allaho put to the sword.
He was ridden with aggression at Aintree but unseated after jumping errors eventually paid to his demise in the Grade 1 Betway Bowl Chase. He signed off his campaign on a positive note however, when a neck second behind Frodon in the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase at Sandown.
It's difficult to know what to expect from this horse in general but especially on his reappearance start and over three miles.
He's always looked like a horse with a lot of speed to my eye so I've never envisaged him as a staying chaser which is why I'm happy to just watch him in the King George.
His jumping frailties are likely to be exposed once more if challenging Frodon for the lead with no let up on decent ground around Kempton.
Tornado Flyer might want softer ground
Tornado Flyer is Willie Mullins' other representative and is a horse very often forgotten about. However, he is no back number by any means as his form stacks up amongst the best in this race.
He hasn't won since December 2019 mainly because he's constantly running against horses who are simply better than him.
However, plenty of those horses he's been facing aren't lining up in this year's King George. To echo that point, he's been beaten by none other than, Allaho, Chacun Pour Soi, A Plus Tard and Min on his last five starts. He's been a double figure price on each of those occasions and hasn't been disgraced in any of them.
He signed off last season with a third in the Ryanair Chase behind Allaho and Fakir D'Oudairies where admittedly, he was probably aided by being ridden with restraint and picked up the pieces to an extent.
However, his reappearance run to finish fifth in the John Durkan, just behind Fakir D'Oudairies again, was a solid effort.
He ran on in eye-catching fashion in the finish over the 2m4f100y trip which makes this second attempt at three miles look a good ploy.
The concern for his chances is if the ground is too quick as his best form is on soft or heavy. Being a son of Flemensfirth, it makes sense that slower conditions should see him in the best light. However, he does have good ground form but of course, at this level, any preferences become exposed.
Dashel Drasher a worthy entrant
Dashel Drasher is an admirable performer and, if he does run, will make sure that Frodon doesn't get an easy time of things on the frontend again this year.
He is the flagbearer for the Jeremy Scott yard who have really been hitting form in the past couple of weeks after a steady start to the season.
Of course, we associate Dashel Drasher with his regular jockey, Matt Griffiths who continues to recover from injuries sustained in a car crash. The partnership that Dashel Drasher and Griffiths created was quite something. Such was the trust and harmony both horse and jockey were in.
It was Rex Dingle who got the call up on Dashel Drasher's reappearance start where the new jockey got a lovely tune out of his partner and clearly got on very well with him. Dashel Drasher seems to have matured with his racing and no longer looks the livewire of old.
Of course, he's earnt his place in a King George however, the concern here is that this isn't Ascot. All his best form has come at Ascot and in soft conditions too.
He's never run at Kempton before and yes, the track is righthanded but it's an entirely different test to Ascot.
His jumping style is really going to be put under the microscope here and this is going to be the biggest question he'll have to answer.
Minella Indo is the most likely winner of this year's King George for me as Henry De Bromhead looks to bag another big British prize.
However, I will also be keeping Chantry House on side to run a big race as well as Tornado Flyer to bely his odds and run into a place.