It is six years since Paul Nicholls enjoyed what could be seen as a ‘good’ Cheltenham Festival but the trainer leading the title race now has his most powerful team for years
It is six years since Paul Nicholls has enjoyed what could be seen as a “good” Cheltenham, when Rock On Ruby and Big Buck’s took the Champion Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle, respectively, in 2012.
At the six Festivals since, he has saddled 11 winners: two each in the Fred Winter, Grand Annual, Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle and Foxhunters’, one in the County Hurdle, one Coral Cup and a Champion Chase with Dodging Bullets in 2015.
Nicholls has also finished the campaign as champion trainer in three of those years, so a good Cheltenham is not necessarily a pre-requisite for a successful season. All the same, a step up on his return from recent Festivals will probably be essential if Nicholls is to maintain his current lead of around £400,000 over Nicky Henderson and claim his first title for three years. The bookies still make him a narrow second-favourite to do so at around 6-4, and on Tuesday he showed off the horses he hopes will help to prove the layers wrong.
Clan Des Obeaux (Gold Cup): Touch wood, everything has gone to plan, he looks great, came out of the race [at Ascot last time] very well and he is just progressive. He was still learning about the job last year, but now we are where we want to be. He is a more experienced horse who has matured and has done the talking himself on his last two runs. Out of all the horses in the Gold Cup, he is the improving youngster. A lot of his rivals are exposed horses – we don’t know where Clan Des Obeaux will end up.
Grand Sancy (Supreme Novice Hurdle): He’s had a great season and after being narrowly beaten in the Tolworth, he won well in the Kingwell Hurdle, beating Sceau Royal and Vision Des Flos. He gave them weight at Wincanton and really toughed it out with a good performance for a novice. He looks fantastic and has come out of the race well.
Give Me A Copper (Ultima Chase): He is a very talented horse. He came back at Sandown the other day with a big weight and ran a real good fourth. He travelled and jumped well before getting a bit tired from the back of the second last. The plan is to go for the Ultima and then hopefully onto the Grand National.
Topofthegame (RSA Chase): Topofthegame has entries in both the RSA Chase and the JLT Novice Chase, but he is almost certain to run in the RSA. He finished second at Kempton over Christmas to La Bague Au Roi and that is good form. We purposely haven’t run him since, he goes well fresh and we’re looking forward to running him. He is a high-class chaser in the making, jumps nicely, has lots of class and is one of our big chances.
Quel Destin (Triumph Hurdle): He has won his last five races for us, having got beat at Chepstow first time up when he was inexperienced. He’s not been beaten since, has won a couple of Grade Two races including at Cheltenham and also won a Grade One at Chepstow in December. He is a proper tough four-year-old which you need in a Triumph. This lad has it all and is a proper jumping horse.
Pic D’Orhy (Triumph Hurdle): His mark in this country based on his French form is 149 and he is a possible for the Triumph. He is a proper, big chasing type of horse who we bought with the future in mind. We took him to Wincanton last week for a racecourse gallop and we were thrilled with what we saw. I will either go straight for the Triumph with him or go to Aintree.
Pacha Du Polder (Foxhunters): He seems to know when to go at Cheltenham. This will be his last run unless Andy [Stewart, his owner] changes his mind. and Megan [Nicholls, the trainer’s daughter] will then have him for hunting. He is brilliant at that so he will always have a good home here.
Wednesday’s best bets
Weld Al Emarat (4.10) is well worth an interest at around 3-1 in a useful handicap on the Fibresand at Southwell. Mick Easterby’s runner has won two of his last three starts at this track and put up his best performance to date over this trip last time out.
Harbour Quay (3.05) can go one better on a good second on handicap debut last time, while Statistical (2.20) and Chef D’Equipe (2.50) should both go well on the card at Wincanton.