Paul Nicholls, who has had a dream season so far and is going after his ninth trainers’ title, is very pleased with the condition of his horses ahead of The Festival where he is the second most successful trainer ever with 34 winners.
He paraded his main hopes for success over the four days at Cheltenham – Tuesday, 10th March to Friday, 13th March – and spoke enthusiastically about their chances to the media.
Silviniaco Conti is out to make it third time lucky in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, 13th March, having fallen in 2013 and finishing fourth last year.
The trainer said: “Silviniaco Conti looks fantastic in his coat and way better than he did at this time last year. He is in really good order. He was out second lot this morning and did some hard work but you would not think so for looking at him. He is in great shape and won the Betfair Chase at Haydock first time out with cheekpieces on which I put on because he was just racing a bit lazily.
“He then won the King George very nicely at Kempton Park. He made all the running and it was probably a career-best performance. He is finishing his races strongly this year which he didn’t do last year.
“We found last year that he was suffering quite badly from gastric ulcers. We are on top of that now and the cheekpieces have made his jumping sharper. He had a nice racecourse gallop 10 days ago at Wincanton and we are really where we want to be with him. He is very fit and we hope for a bit better luck than last year.
“He ran very well at Cheltenham in the Bula over hurdles and was travelling oh so well when he fell three out in the Gold Cup two years ago and last year he jumped the last in front. On form, he has a massive chance.
“Sam Winner is my other one for the Gold Cup and he has done nothing but improve this season. He won first time out at Cheltenham and then at Aintree. I ran him in the Lexus in Ireland over Christmas and he finished third – probably a career-best. He goes well fresh, loves Cheltenham and is a real live outsider. He will love a fast gallop and better ground at Cheltenham. The Lexus form is good.”
He has two also going for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on the second day, Dodging Bullets and Mr Mole.
Nicholls remarked: “Dodging Bullets probably on form deserves to be the favourite for the Champion Chase but he is not. He has had a fantastic season – he needed his first race this season at Cheltenham and has improved since then. He won the Tingle Creek at Sandown and then the Clarence House nicely at Ascot the other day, beating Sprinter Sacre. He had plenty left in the tank.
“He likes soft ground and I would not want it to dry up too much for Cheltenham. He is a really staying two-miler. The Champion Chase is run on the Old Course which I think is an easy two miles so I would like to see the ground quite testing. He is in really good form – we sorted out his ulcers – and he worked great this morning.
“Mr Mole maybe deserves the title of the most improved horse in training. He has won his last four races and followed what Master Minded did. Master Minded won the Champion Chase the same season. I hope that is a good omen. Mr Mole is a hugely talented horse and mentally he is a lot more mature this year.
“AP (McCoy) has worked out it is better to bowl along in front rather than hold on to him. The horse is not ungenuine, just a bit of a character as he showed at the start in the Game Spirit last time out but still won very nicely. He is on a roll at the moment and he worked absolutely superbly this morning. He has a great chance in a very open Champion Chase with the two heroes coming back and the improving horses coming on through and he is one of them.”
The trainer hopes to have two runners in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, Saphir Du Rheu and Zarkandar (pictured right), on Thursday, 12th March.
Nicholls said: “Saphir Du Rheu ended up last season rated 165 over hurdles. He went chasing and unfortunately parted company with Sam (Twiston-Davies) first time, won well at Exeter and then had a fall at Kempton over Christmas. We thought, as he is still a young horse and the World Hurdle is wide open, we would try him back over hurdles.
“He won the Cleeve Hurdle (at Cheltenham on 24th January) and stayed on really strongly up the hill which has put him in the forefront of the betting for the World Hurdle. He gallops and jumps and I think there is a lot of improvement to come. It was his first proper race for a while and I am very pleased with him at the moment.
“Sam has decided to ride him rather than Zarkandar and that was a close call. He thinks he may one day win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on him. Big Buck’s would never jump a fence but Saphir Du Rheu will.
“Zarkandar won the JCB Triumph Hurdle four years ago and has had a great season, winning the French Champion Hurdle in the autumn very nicely and getting beaten a short-head in the Long Walk at Ascot when pulling himself up in front. We have keep him fresh for Cheltenham this year on purpose as he is so much better when fresh. He worked very well at Wincanton 10 days ago and looks great. I think he has a fantastic chance.”
Nicholls also paraded Wonderful Charm (Ryanair Chase), Southfield Theatre (RSA Chase), Vibrato Valtat (Racing Post Arkle Chase), Calipto (Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle), Ptit Zig (JLT Novices’ Chase), Bouvreuil (Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle), Le Mercurey (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle) and Caid Du Berlais (Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate).
The trainer added: “This year I don’t want to run horses at The Festival just for a day out so I will have a more select team and certainly less than the 36 runners I had in 2014.”
ABOUT PAUL NICHOLLS
Eight-time champion Jump trainer (2005/06, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2013/14); became the first handler to accrue more than £4 million in a season in 2007/08. He saddled his 2,000th winner at Down Royal on 5th November 2011, less than 20 years after taking his licence, making him the fastest Jump trainer to reach the landmark figure. He is leading the way in the Jump trainers’ championship this season and is almost £1-million clear of his nearest rival.
He has sent out 34 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, the second-highest total ever, including four victories in each of three of the meeting’s showpiece contests – the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
Born – Bristol, 17th April 1962
Background – The son of a policemen, he began his racing career as a Jump jockey and partnered 130 winners between 1980 and 1989, with his biggest successes coming in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury on Broadheath (1986) and Playschool (1987).
Having struggled to keep his weight down, he retired from riding in 1989 and assisted Devon handler David Barons, trainer of not only Broadheath and Playschool but also Seagram, who won the 1991 Grand National at Aintree during Nicholls’ time at the stable. Nicholls took out his own licence to train at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat on 1st November 1991, with just eight horses and has come a long way since.
First winner as a trainer – Olveston, Hereford, 20th December 1991
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL WINS (34)
1999 Racing Post Arkle Trophy Chase(Flagship Uberalles), Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Call Equiname), Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (See More Business)
2000 No winners
2001 No winners
2002 No winners
2003 Racing Post Arkle Trophy Chase(Azerytuiop)
2004 St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase (Earthmover), Johnny Henderson Grand Annual (St Pirran), Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Azertyuiop), Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Sporazene)
2005 Foxhunter Chase (Sleeping Night), Ryanair Chase (Thisthatandtother)
2006 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Noland), RSA Chase (Star De Mohaison), Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Desert Quest)
2007 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual (Andreas), RSA Chase (Denman), Ryanair Chase (Taranis), Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (Kauto Star)
2008 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Master Minded), JCB Triumph Hurdle (Celestial Halo), Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (Denman)
2009 CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices’ Handicap Chase (Chapoturgeon), Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Master Minded), Ladbrokes World Hurdle (Big Buck’s), Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (American Trilogy), Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (Kauto Star)
2010 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Sanctuaire), Ladbrokes World Hurdle (Big Buck’s)
2011 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Al Ferof), Ladbrokes World Hurdle (Big Buck’s), JCB Triumph Hurdle (Zarkandar)
2012 Stan James Champion Hurdle (Rock On Ruby), Ladbrokes World Hurdle (Big Buck’s)
2013 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Salubrious)
2014 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Lac Fontana)
Winner of The Irish Independent Dessie Hughes Leading Trainer Award at The Festival: 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
GUIDE TO THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2015 – CLICK HERE