Bravemansgame positioned himself as the leading staying chaser in Britain at the end of the 2022/23 National Hunt season and champion trainer Paul Nicholls may still feel his best days are ahead.
The Ditcheat chief had touted Bravemansgame as a 'King George horse' during his novice chasing season and that belief was well held as they took out the Boxing Day showpiece at Kempton before going on to finish second in a thrilling Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Still just eight years old and winner of six from 10 starts as a chaser, he came unstuck when second to Gentlemansgame in the Charlie Hall Chase on seasonal appearance at Wetherby and there was another near-miss when only finding Royale Pagaille better at Haydock on 25th November.
Despite finishing six-and-a-half lengths behind in second, Nicholls was still happy with Bravemansgame's performance and is looking forward to the next outing - a trip to Kempton for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
There is one thing that certainly cannot be argued when it comes to the career of one PF Nicholls - he knows just what is needed to win the King George on Boxing Day.
Bravemansgame gave him a record-extending 13th success in the Christmas showpiece in 2022 and it was a plan fulfilled.
A year previous, when Bravemansgame won the Grade 1 novice chase on the same card, Nicholls pinpointed the King George as a long-term target for a horse 'made for the race' and so it was when he won handsomely from Royale Pagaille, after closest pursuer L'homme Presse unseated rider at the final fence when seemingly losing the battle anyway.
The King George was run at a good pace and Bravemansgame had to contend with rival L'homme Presse jumping into his path at times on the way around. It was a good learning curve for him, and a definite step up from his season-opening win in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Many doubted whether he would see out the three-and-quarter-mile Gold Cup journey around Cheltenham.
Although he had to settle for second on the day, there is no doubt he saw out the trip well and he just found a brilliant horse in Galopin Des Champs too good.
Bravemansgame had won six of his seven starts over fences heading into the Gold Cup. The wins came at Newton Abbot, Haydock, Kempton, Newbury, Wetherby and, of course, Kempton again in that King George.
They are all 'flat' tracks, while his only setback came at Aintree (also flat) after he was a final-hour absentee from the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham in March 2022 when a deluge of rain led Nicholls to believe conditions had gone against him.
They went to Aintree three weeks later and the trainer conceded after a listless effort on Merseyside that Bravemansgame had probably gone 'over the top' having been ripe for his intended Cheltenham outing and forced to wait those three weeks.
His best hurdles form was on similar tracks, with his one previous encounter with Cheltenham bringing a bronze medal in the 2021 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle won impressively by Bob Olinger.
The concern for followers of Bravemansgame this season is the fact he has been beaten three races on the bounce.
His Gold Cup effort was admirable, but he disappointed behind shock winner Fastorslow in the Punchestown Gold Cup and was turned over by a horse rated 18lb inferior in the Charlie Hall.
Bravemansgame may have had to settle for second place in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, but there were enough positives for Nicholls to take from that performance and into Kempton on Boxing Day.
There were no excuses from Nicholls for not getting the better of Royale Pagaille, saying: "He was not good enough on the day, it's as simple as that.
"No excuses. He jumped well and travelled well. I thought he was going to win going to four out and he didn't quite pick up."
Bravemansgame will now be heading to Kempton to defend his title and try and deliver Nicholls with a record-extending 14th King George crown.
The Ditcheat chief is in high spirits ahead of that outing and is adamant his star charge will put in another strong performance.
Nicholls added: "We'll get him fresh for Kempton, that probably suits him better, it's an easier three miles. The other horse outstayed him. He's run a good race, but Kempton's his track.
"It won't do him any harm to have a few runs. You can wrap them up too much in cotton wool. Sometimes they want a few races to harden them up a bit. He's run well and he'll run well at Kempton."