Some will be pleased and others won’t, but I am changing the format this time (because it suits me, to be honest), but I will still highlight the horses for those who like to browse (i.e. not bother reading my work) and only want to look at their favourite horses! All my interviews have been a learning experience but I would say that to date this may be the most profitable – so your loss if you don’t read on…………
Paul Nicholls has not been Champion trainer so many times because he doesn’t know what he is doing. Yes he has had the likes of Kauto Star and Denman, Master Minded and Big Bucks’, in his care, but no one will ever know whether they would have reached those peaks in another yard – or disappeared in to obscurity? Fact is Paul is fully aware of the importance of the one and only Cheltenham Festival and is a past master at gearing his horses up to peak when it matters in March and as I write, there are signs that his horses are about to hit top gear – ominous reading for everyone else!
The easiest way for me to write this is in the order we were shown the horses, which means Sanctuaire starts the list. He still heads for the Queen mother Champion Chase though the thought was that they are looking for place money assuming Sprinter Sacre gets round intact for the Henderson team. Not one to beat about the bush, Paul freely admitted that he is probably not up to the very highest grade, but given good ground (and not the slop they have all been racing on of late), he does retain place options and at 20/1 if that is the case, backing him each way will still be more profitable than risking all on the heavily odds on favourite?
I do like a horse that has been aimed at a target all season and in Unioniste they have a decent enough contender for an RSA Chase that may be more open than we have been led to believe to date? A grey (I don’t like greys, no reason just never have from a betting perspective, step forward the only person never to back Desert Orchid), he has been trained from the beginning of the season with this one objective which must be a positive and as he is “still improving”, 10/1 could yet be good each way value in a very open contest. Next out we had the name mumbled to us and frantically searched the paperwork until we realised it was Ptit Zig – says it all really! He is currently joint favourite for the Fred Winter but they seemed to rush through him a little and after one run they are clearly still learning about this ex French trained four year old and a six length win at Ludlow just doesn’t do it for me!
Fago heads for the Arkle and could sneak in to a place perhaps but was beaten recently in a three horse race and I would not fall over in shock if he misses Cheltenham entirely, leading me to Dodging Bullets, another fancy for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday (seems like there is one in every yard)? The form of his last run was impressive (third to the ill fated Darlan in the Christmas Hurdle) which is way better than average novice form, and at odds of 10/11 I have to admit he is a tempting each way option against the shorter priced My Tent Or Yours.
The Coral Cup is always a wide-open contest but I got the feeling that if Wonderful Charm turns up he is unlikely to run unbacked. Although he won at Chepstow last time out Ruby Walsh heard a noise so he has been operated on for a breathing issue and should be even better now, and it seems that Paul Nicholls quite likes the five year old who looks sure to keep on improving.
Saving the big ones until last (I still have one up my sleeve just to see who reads to the bitter end), and next out was Zarkandar who is in rude health ahead of a tilt at the Champion Hurdle. He keeps on galloping so the hill may well bring out the best in him, though his trainer is wary that an extra furlong (like on the other course) would suit him even more, while his form in the International gives him the beating of Grandouet if that is taken at face value – though his trainer did admit there was very little between the main contenders this season.
Silviniaco Conti looked as good as anything in the yard and his trainer clearly feels he has another good chaser on his hands. They seem convinced that the end to end gallop will suit him down to the ground and although Paul thinks it will be between his horse and Sir Des Champs or Bobs Worth, I got the feeling he was pretty confident and is ”very very happy with him” which was one of the more positive comments of the morning.
Lastly, and just for those who bothered to read this far, Far West is my bet of the meeting based on what I have heard. 5/1 for the Triumph Hurdle, he is unbeaten in this Country after four races (so he has the experience as well as the talent), and works favourably with Champion Hurdle hope Zarkandar which may well put him head and shoulders above 99% of his rivals here – granted a clear run he may well win with this with his head in his chest – and remember, you read it here first!
My idea of a Paul Nicholls fan’s Cheltenham Bet:
Far West Triumph Hurdle 5/1
Silviniaco Conti Gold Cup 5/1
Dodging Bullets Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 10/1
Three each way doubles and an each way treble.