Silviniaco Conti to make it a golden five Gold Cups for Paul Nicholls

The days of Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s, Master Minded and Ruby Walsh are long gone for Paul Nicholls, writes Pat Keane.

Silviniaco Conti to make it a golden five Gold Cups for Paul Nicholls

In a relatively short space of time, he saw five legends leave his yard, but it is some measure of the man that he continues to be the best trainer in Britain — and by some way to boot.

Nicholls has enjoyed a fine week at Cheltenham and is fancied to top it off today by saddling Silviniaco Conti to land the Betfred Gold Cup.

One of the more inspired decisions Nicholls made of late was to appoint the talented Sam Twiston-Davies as first jockey, but this afternoon it is the pride of west Cork, Noel Fehily, who will do the driving aboard Silviniaco Conti.

Fehily has enjoyed a fruitful association with Nicholls over the years and is Silviniaco Conti’s regular partner.

Nicholls, a great thinker when it comes to racing, clearly concluded that it would not make sense to part the combination.

The negatives for Silviniaco Conti are that he has twice failed to win the Gold Cup and none of his 14 successes to date have come at Cheltenham.

Mind you two years ago, when ridden by Walsh, he was travelling strongly when falling at the third last.

Then twelve months on, the nine-year-old shaped as the most likely winner for most of the straight, but went left and right on the run in and was eventually beaten into fourth behind Lord Windermere.

Nicholls, however, has made no secret that Silviniaco Conti has had issues in the past, just as his Wednesday hero, Dodging Bullets, had.

But we saw what he did with that Champion Chase winner and it will be no surprise should Nicholls manage it again with the son of Dom Alco.

Certainly all the evidence this season has been that Silviniaco Conti is rapidly improving and better than he has ever been.

He’s been lightly raced and, after getting beaten on his seasonal debut at Wetherby, went on to score at Haydock.

But it was his performance when winning the King George at Kempton at Christmas which was the biggest indicator so far that he is now finally ready to fulfil his massive potential.

Silviniaco Conti mostly jumped beautifully and made all of-the-running to slam a high-class field in tremendous style.

Willie Mullins’ Djakadam has been heavily backed this week, having defied top weight to win the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January.

Considering he is only a six-year-old, Djakadam has more scope than any other horse in the race, but the Thyestes form hasn’t really worked out.

Many Clouds may be a bigger danger. He put up a fine display to defy 11-6 in the Hennessy at Newbury in November and emphasised his well being when scoring at Cheltenham in late January.

It was a brave shout by Mark Bradstock to swerve the RSA Chase on Wednesday and point Coneygree at this instead.

Coneygree could literally be anything, but it is sobering to think that no novice has won the Gold Cup since Captain Christy in 1974.

Carlingford Lough powered home to land the Hennessy at Leopardstown last month, while Road To Riches has been rested since taking the Lexus at Leopardstown at Christmas. Neither horse, to my way of thinking, is good enough.

The puzzling Lord Windermere won what could be best described as a bizarre Gold Cup last year and was also successful in the RSA Chase in 2013.

The fact he is obviously at his best on this unique track offers his supporters some hope.

No current trainer knows more about what it takes to land the biggest prize in National Hunt racing than Paul Nicholls. He has won the race four times in the past, with See More Business, Denman and twice with Kauto Star. Silviniaco Conti to make it number five is the prediction.

A pair of Willie Mullins-trained horses worth minor wagers are Roi Des Francs (Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle) and Blood Cotil (Grand Annual Chase). They possess progressive profiles and have hit form at the right time.

Pat Keane’s Best Bets

3.20: Silviniaco Conti (nap)

1.30: 4.40 Roi Des Francs (E/W)

5.15 Blood Cotil (E/W)

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