Cheltenham Festival 2022: Paul Nicholls Highlights His Team’s Best Chances

By Graham Clark

Paul Nicholls, the 12-times champion Jump trainer in Great Britain, hosted the media at his Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat ahead of The Festival™ at Cheltenham later this month (Tuesday 15th March to Friday 18th March inclusive).

Nicholls, who has 46 Festival winners to his name, said: “I’ll have about 12 or 14 runners. There are some nice horses to run which is what you want. We haven’t got the numbers and we won’t have the numbers that Willie (Mullins) and Gordon (Elliott) have got. They are nice horses we have got though and Bravemansgame and Stage Star are really exciting as they are the stars of the future. It doesn’t bother me having a smaller team and there is not much you can do about it.

“When you are younger you want to run everything and then you look back and wonder, ‘what did I do that for?’ You have to be realistic. You have got to have the right horse to go there and I think we have got a nice team to go there and have some fun with.

I think the best three chances are Bob And Co, Bravemansgame and Stage Star but some of those handicappers could go well without saying there is a banker in there.”

Paul Nicholls introduced his top horses and shared his thoughts on their chances for The Festival this year:

Photographs by Ian Yates



The hugely-talented novice chaser Bravemansgame heads for the Grade One Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Wednesday 16th March). Winner of the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury and third in the Grade One Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival last season, the seven year old is unbeaten in four starts over fences during the current campaign.

After wins at Newton Abbot and Haydock Park in the autumn, he took the notable scalp of Ahoy Senor in the Grade One Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. He then warmed up for Cheltenham with a comfortable victory in a novices’ handicap chase at Newbury.

Nicholls, who is seeking a fourth success in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase following Star de Mohaison (2006), Denman (2007) and Topofthegame (2010), said: “He is a fantastic looking horse that has done everything right. We got put in our place last year by Bob Olinger well and truly but he still ran well. He was second at Aintree and I think there he had had one run too many.

“He was quite weak and still a shell but he has improved enormously for a summer at grass this season. I think he will be even better next season when he is even stronger.

“He has won four from four. He won that handicap very nicely at Newbury the other day and is rated 164 which is a high mark for a novice. He does everything nicely. He jumps well, relaxes nicely and has plenty of speed. He is a super horse.

“He doesn’t take a lot of training – we just let him tick over. We had to go somewhere for a run as season we didn’t run him between Newbury and Cheltenham. I’ve always used that Newbury meeting for those good horses as a prep run.

“I thought it would get a bit more experience into him as he is a novice and he won really nicely and he wasn’t fully wound up by any stretch of the imagination. We were setting him quite a big task but good horses can do it. He looks great now and I’ve not had to do a lot with him. That race would improve him.

“He has got class and he jumps. A lot of horses can be big and good but if they don’t jump fences they never fulfil their potential. If you can jump like him then they have got a chance of fulfilling their potential.

“I’d like to think next season he would be a serious contender for the King George and Gold Cup. He is a lovely horse and has a lovely chance next week. No one knows what is going to turn up and run until the declarations and the ground and he will run in the three mile race unless it was attritional. If it got very heavy ground we might think about the other race (the 2m 4f Turners Novices’ Chase on Thursday) but I keep looking at the weather forecast and it doesn’t look too bad between now and Cheltenham.

“You can only beat what you are up against and if the good ones turn up it will be an interesting race. I think you are always nervous (if a horse like Galopin Des Champs turns up) but we are going into the meeting with a stronger horse than last year.

“Harry (Cobden, jockey) said he would be better with a lead as he doesn’t do much in front but he is dead straight forward really. I think he is rated higher than when Denman won this race as he was 161 and this lad is 164 already. There are a lot of similarities in what they have done but you can’t compare generations.

“He has certainly gone the right way. Denman never had as much boot as him as he was an out and out galloper but he has got plenty of speed and jumps well.

“He is very relaxed and is a lovely horse that has a lot of class. For a big horse in our school he is electric. He enjoys everything and he is a pleasure to train.”

Frodon (Ultima Handicap Chase)

“He won what I said was his Gold Cup at Down Royal first time out. I said that day we would be really ready and perhaps Galvin and Minella Indo had targets later in the season. He won that nicely.

“It didn’t quite work out in the King George where they went a bit quick and the ground was a bit soft and he didn’t run a particularly good race at Leopardstown last time.

“He probably wants better ground now. When he ran at Down Royal in October, it was nice ground. He doesn’t really like soft ground as much.

“He is off 164 which is the same mark he won his last handicap off two years ago on the same course (Old Course) as the Ultima.

“He went to Wincanton and worked this morning but he didn’t particularly like the soft ground. If it was soft on the first day, I’d wait for Sandown or even consider Aintree if it was good. His wind has always been a little bit of an issue hence why Bryony [Frost, jockey] wasn’t overly pleased with it at Leopardstown the other day and on really soft ground it just catches him out.

“If we don’t go next week, which as I said is in the balance depending on the ground, he will go to Sandown for the Oaksey Chase which he won last year. Then he will have a holiday and come back next season when I will have him really ready for Down Royal in October.

“He is 10 going on 11 and he has had some amazingly hard battles but they can’t go on competing at the highest level forever. He ran in the Gold Cup last year and he showed that’s not his race and he hasn’t got the boot for the Ryanair any more.

“He has won a King George and a Ryanair. He has been an amazing horse – we have just got to be selective of where we run him on the right ground now.

“The thing is the first day at Cheltenham might be on the slowest ground. Carrying that weight he has to have everything in his favour to be competitive.”

Stage Star (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle)

“He runs in the Ballymore on Wednesday and it looks like we have our nicest team of horses there that day.

“He was a good bumper horse last season. He won at Chepstow and he was second to Knappers Hill twice when he ran really well.

“He has won all three novice hurdles this season starting at Chepstow, then he won at Newbury at the November meeting and then back there in the Grade One Challow Hurdle.

“Harry (Cobden) was really impressed with the way he did things that day and you never know how good he might be.

“He has followed the same route as Bravemansgame last season. He was ready to go to Exeter a fortnight ago but the ground was so heavy I didn’t want to give him a hard race for nothing so I’ve kept him fresh.

“He had a piece of work at Wincanton 10 days ago and went very nicely with Monmiral. He needs to step up again on the form that he has done but he can do no more than keep winning.

“He was impressive in the Challow and is probably one of our best chances of the week I’d say. He will be a lovely horse to go chasing next season. He will probably follow the same route as Bravemansgame over fences.

“Harry (Cobden) thinks he has got plenty of speed as he showed plenty at Newbury. He is an unbeaten horse over hurdles and we look forward to running him. He has certainly got plenty of ability. If he is as good as Bravemansgame we would be really happy.”

Threeunderthrufive (Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase)

“He got beat at Chepstow first time but he has now won his last four. He just needed the first run at Chepstow and he jumped a bit ‘novicey’.

“He has won at Exeter, Cheltenham, Doncaster and Warwick and we have placed him nicely to win those races.

“He is going to run in the Brown Advisory alongside Bravemansgame at the request of the owners (McNeill Family) as they are quite keen for Adrian (Heskin) to stay on him.

“He is in the Ultima on the first day, but the owners have another horse in that, and is still in the National Hunt Chase and if I had a free hand I would have a look at that.

“Whatever race he runs in, he is tough and genuine and probably a little bit under the radar. It would be no surprise if he won a big race. He stays and he jumps and that is what you need.

“Even later on this season if there was time we could find a nice staying race for him. He will be a nice horse next season to run in all those staying races, like the Welsh National. He has kept on winning and he kept on winning last season. You would just never know with him as he is one of those that is never flashy and you never know how good he might be.

“If he ran a really good race in the Brown Advisory I wouldn’t be surprised at all. He is a proper horse. On all known form and ratings you can’t see that (beating Bravemansgame) but you never know in races and he keeps on winning the races he is in. If the ground turned testing it would bring out the best of him.

“He stays forever. That is what he does – he stays and jumps quite nicely. He has done nothing wrong at all.”

McFabulous (Coral Cup)

“He is rated 150. I see he has got 11st 8lbs and I reckon bottom weight might be 11st 1lbs or 2lbs. A lot of these handicaps will be condensed so 150 is not so bad.

“I would have liked to have gone chasing with him this season but he had an accident in the yard earlier in the season which set us back, hence why we couldn’t run until Christmas.

“He ran well in the Relkeel first time and stayed on. He needed the run badly so went for the Cleeve and blatantly, like before, he didn’t get three miles up the Cheltenham hill. I’m not saying around Kempton over fences on an easy track that he won’t get it but he didn’t get the trip the last day.

“I thought ‘let’s go run him in the Coral Cup’. That is two miles five and it is the absolutely perfect trip. He went to Wincanton this morning and worked beautifully. I’d say he is just beginning to come right. He will go to the Coral Cup then we may give him one more run at Sandown, then he will be novice chasing in the autumn.

“We definitely haven’t seen the best of this horse by a long way yet. He can be competitive off 150. I think next October when we jump fences is when we will see the best of him.

“The Coral Cup could be quite a nice race for him. There were not many options for him and we thought he won’t win the Aintree Hurdle and the Coral Cup is the right trip and the weights will be condensed. I won’t be surprised if he runs well.”

Politologue (Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase)

“He won the race two years ago. He is a Champion Chase winner and a dual Tingle Creek winner but he is 11 years old now and he has got it all to do. There are a lot of young legs in the race so it will be hard for him.

“He was going to run in the race last year and we thought we had him in the form of our life but he had a nose bleed when we were saddling him and it was right in full view of everybody so it was the right thing to do not to run him. If I had wiped it away it would have gone. He had that nose bleed so we couldn’t run him, which was a shame.

“It looks a lot hotter race this year. I suspect Cheltenham may be his last run or second last run. We may go to Sandown to run him but I would say he only has one or two more runs left. He has been an amazing horse and this will be the seventh Festival he has been at and he will be running in his sixth Festival race. He has been a fantastic horse and I wouldn’t mind a few more like him.

“He may have got lucky when he won that Champion Chase because some fell by the wayside but that is the way racing is and what you are up against. He has always been a great horse. He has been a pleasure to train all his life but he is in the twilight of his career now.

“I can’t stand here and say he will win next week as that is an impossible thing to say, what with the younger horses in there, but he will run a good solid race. He went up to Wincanton this morning and worked really nicely. He is ready to go and we’ve kept him fresh, hence why he hasn’t run since Cheltenham when he was second to Nube Negra in the autumn.

“We look forward to running him. He won’t be racing next season. He has been a brilliant horse and why would you ask him to carry on 11 going on 12?”

Thyme White (Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase)

“I think he has got a lovely chance in the Grand Annual. He is off 142. He was a good hurdler but he was always going to need a bit of time. We gave him a wind operation in the summer.

“His first run he was second to Amarillo Sky, who a lot of people fancy for the Grand Annual. We were nowhere near ready and he ran very well. We thought ‘next time we will meet we will beat him’.

“He went to Ascot and I don’t know what happened at the first but he unseated Harry (Cobden). Something spooked him – he half tried to duck out and unseated Harry at the first. We went to Doncaster the next day, where they went a gallop, and he jumped brilliantly with Bryony on him and he dotted up.

“We just thought ‘if we are going to go to the Grand Annual and be competitive we don’t want to win again and be rated 150’. We have protected his mark a little bit by not running him. He went to Wincanton 10 days ago and had a piece of work and he went to Wincanton again today and he really caught my eye this morning. He worked beautifully on soft-ish ground.

“He looks great and he is a lovely big horse. He has got to overcome a bit of inexperience as he has only had three runs over fences but that means he might get in off a nice mark. He does travel and jump well. I think he has got a great chance in that.

“It would be nice for the Stewart family having lost Andy if they could have something go really well at Cheltenham. I think he is a nice horse and there is plenty more to come from him.”

Saint Calvados (Ryanair Chase)

“He has been a bit of a challenge like all of those older horses that came from Harry [Whittington] because they were well exposed. He was second in the Ryanair two seasons ago and he ran really well.

“I think we worked out the other day at Ascot that he wants to go left-handed and I also think he wants good ground. He ran very well in the King George when I think he got there too soon really. It looks like in some of those races that he doesn’t stay (three miles).

“I think spring ground will suit him better and I’ve not written him off yet. The other day that real deep ground at Ascot didn’t suit him. If we can get some nice spring ground there is a nice race in him somewhere.

“He is a horse with a lot of ability but he is not the easiest to train. If we can get him right he could be very competitive in a race like the Ryanair.”

Simply The Betts (Plate Handicap Chase)

“He is what he is. He is now rated 155 which means he has to carry 11st 12lbs in the Plate which is the race that he will run in.

“He likes Cheltenham. He ran very well there back at Christmas when he had top weight. Three miles didn’t suit him the last day but I don’t think he was ever going that day. We dropped him in a little bit to give him every chance to get three (miles) but he sulked and was never really going.

“I think in handicap company, riding him really positively over two and a half miles, will really suit him. I think he has got it all to do to win off 155 and I think he is paying for that success (2020 Plate). He is a tough and genuine horse that never gets dropped. He will run his race but he has got it all to do at the weights.

“He is one of those genuine old horses that loves Cheltenham and on a bit of decent ground he will run a decent race. I thought 155 he would be able to win off that but it is still quite a tough mark. It does give you enthusiasm for his previous runs at the track, but you wouldn’t mind a few pounds off his back.”

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