Paul Nicholls extended his lead over Willie Mullins in a pulsating duel for the British trainers’ championship when enjoying a 54th birthday 20-1 four-timer at Wincanton yesterday.
Fresh from a fabulous four-timer at Ayr on Saturday, highlighted by Vicente’s victory in the Scottish Grand National that put him back in the driving seat, the Ditcheat handler repeated the trick at his local track from just four runners.
Nicholls now has a £43,160 (€54,341) advantage over his Irish rival as the battle enters its final week.
Zubayr (1-8 favourite) gave Nicholls the best possible start as he romped away with the Ridegway BMW Novices’ Hurdle.
The four-year-old never gave his supporters an anxious moment as he made amends for a poor show at Cheltenham.
The French import had been sent off third-favourite for the Triumph Hurdle on the back of a smooth debut success in the Grade Two Adonis Hurdle at Kempton, but was well-beaten behind Ivanovich Gorbatov.
However, Zubayr got back on track with a confidence-boosting win by eight lengths under Nick Scholfield.
Nicholls said: “I knew I ran him too quick at Cheltenham when I saw him in the paddock. We were hard on him and rushed to get ready for Kempton and he wasn’t really right in his coat.
“He’s done well since. This was a different race but he’s had a nice run round and I expect you’ll see him back here at Wincanton in the Elite Hurdle in November. It will be perfect for him.”
Nicholls doubled up when Emerging Talent comfortably took the Racing UK Profits Returned To Racing ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle.
Ridden by 5lbs claimer Harry Cobden to offset some of his double penalty, the 5-6 favourite cruised into the lead after jumping two out from the pace-setting Bun Doran.
He just had to be pushed out to hold Kerrow by three lengths with Bun Doran fading 20 lengths back into third.
Movewiththetimes (11-4) gave Nicholls a hat-trick when making a winning debut in division one of the Collects Points, Go Racing With Rewards4Racing Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
The JP McManus-owned newcomer was delivered with precision by Sam Twiston-Davies to tackle Tom George’s Cruiseaweigh and come out on top by three-quarters of a length after a prolonged tussle in the straight.
It was a similar story in division two with Capitaine (7-4 favourite) completing the foursome when defeating Minella For Me, also from the George stable, by 13 lengths to give Twiston-Davies a double.
Nicholls confirmed his determination to retain the title by sending plenty of runners to the West Country meetings during the week before going all out for the finale at Sandown on Saturday, which Nicholls feels will be crucial.
“We’ve got plenty to run during the week at the smaller meetings in the West Country,” he said.
“At the end of the day it comes down to what happens at Sandown on Saturday. There are a couple of Grade Ones there and they are usually the races that decides. We’ll just have to see what happens on Saturday.
“We’ve got Southfield Theatre in the bet365 Gold Cup and he’s probably spearheading next weekend. He wants good ground and hasn’t had it for a while.
“I’ll sit down and see what I can enter. Dodging Bullets will have an entry. There are some nice novice handicaps.
“Next Saturday is going to be a big day.”
Mullins clearly agrees and is ready to bring Un De Sceaux to Sandown next weekend with the Grade One Celebration Chase his likely target.
“Un De Sceaux will probably run at Sandown — that’s the plan at the moment,” Mullins told the Racing Post.
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