Nicholls pair poised to step up Gold Cup preparations

Paul Nicholls will step up the work of his Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders Silviniaco Conti and Sam Winner in the coming days.

Nicholls pair poised to step up Gold Cup preparations

Since winning the prestigious King George VI Chase at Kempton for a second time, Silviniaco Conti has just been going through the motions at Nicholls’ Ditcheat yard.

He will be running in the Gold Cup for a third time having fallen when still going well in 2013 and then finished fourth last year after jumping the last with a clear advantage.

Sam Winner threw his hat into the ring for the blue riband with wins at Cheltenham and Aintree earlier in the season before running a solid race to finish third in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.

“Both were out first lot,” Nicholls said.

“Silviniaco Conti looks extremely well. We’ll start tuning him up a little bit now, he’s had an easy three weeks — when I say easy he hasn’t stopped cantering but we haven’t been hard on him.

“I’m very happy with the way he looks and it’s the same with Sam Winner. The two will probably do everything together between now and then, plenty of graft for the next six weeks.”

Nicholls meanwhile has explained his decision to revert back to the smaller obstacles with Saphir Du Rheu for Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Owned by Andy Stewart, Saphir Du Rheu improved enormously last season to win both the Lanzarote and Welsh Champion Hurdles.

Beaten in the National Spirit on his final start last term, Nicholls decided to miss the big Festivals with the aim of going chasing this season, but his campaign has not gone to plan.

He has failed to complete twice in three starts, although he looked exceptional when putting in a clear round to win at Exeter last month, prompting Nicholls to talk of a bid for the 2016 Gold Cup. The open nature of this year’s World Hurdle has seen Nicholls and Stewart reverse their initial decision, with the pair having employed the same tactics with Big Buck’s in the past.

“I was tempted to keep Saphir Du Rheu over fences, but as the World Hurdle looks so open this year and he is rated 165, Andy Stewart and I thought it might be worth trying him again over hurdles,” Nicholls told his website. “As everyone knows, we did the same with Big Buck’s a few years ago after his hiccup in the Hennessy Gold Cup and he went on to dominate the staying division for years.

“We’ll see how Saphir Du Rheu gets on in the Cleeve Hurdle before deciding on future plans.”

The six-year-old faces a potentially stiff task in the three mile Grade Two contest with some smart performers featuring among the 12 strong entry.

Last year’s World Hurdle third, At Fishers Cross, could return to Cheltenham while Willie Mullins has entered both Briar Hill and Zaidpour.

Un Temps Pour Tout and Beat That are fascinating second season hurdlers while Nigel Twiston-Davies could run his smart novice Blaklion.

Cole Harden, Holywell, 2013 winner Reve De Sivola, Olofi and The Druids Nephew complete the entry.

Ptit Zig may have another run before heading for the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Sixth in the Champion Hurdle last season, Ptit Zig has been a revelation since being sent over fences by Nicholls.

He dismissed last season’s Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Josses Hill easily at Ascot and took his record to four from four this season when beating the classy Champagne West in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

“It was good to see Josses Hill frank the form at Doncaster. Solar Impulse (who Nicholls trains) served it up to him that day, I was pleased with him,” Nicholls said.

“It was interesting to see Vautour have a school round yesterday, he jumped very well. It looks an interesting race, as all of them are.

“Ptit Zig is having a break at the moment and we’re very happy with him.

“He’d had four quick runs which isn’t always ideal, so now we’ve backed off and we’ll try to find one run before Cheltenham if we think we want it to try to get him in the form of his life.”

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