With all the attention on the returning former champion, Nicholls was able to prepare the Frankie Dettori-bred chaser under the radar for once.
Even after his stylish victory over Nicky Henderson’s star, most of the attention was on the runner-up and while Nicholls expects Sprinter Sacre to improve for his first run in over a year, he also feels there is more in Dodging Bullets’ locker.
“Obviously I very pleased, it’s the second Grade One he’s won. We knew he was in good shape and we were bullish about him last week, but he seems to be progressing very quickly,” Nicholls said.
“His form last year was way apart from what he is performing at now.
“We had a few little issues, which we have sorted out. We put a tongue tie on which helps him which we couldn’t do last year and he is a lot more relaxed.
“Getting horses to improve (means) you need to find out what is stopping them. We changed his routine, he’s a fitter horse now and is probably at the peak of his powers.”
NIcholls has brought back his own stars from lengthy absences and thinks Henderson will have been pleased with Sprinter Sacre’s return.
“We’ve been there before with Big Buck’s and Denman and plenty of others, and so has Nicky. When you come back from a long time off it is very hard to get them back to their very best,” said Nicholls.
“We thought we were in the form of our life and would make it very hard for Sprinter.
“I think we can hopefully improve again. His record hasn’t been great in the spring before for various little reasons. We’re not going to run him again now. You’re always learning about them and it can take two or three years before you really know them and we aim to get the best out of him.
“More than anything he has really improved mentally. He’s much more relaxed and that makes it easier. Hopefully we can keep that form going forward to March.
“Nicky will have been thrilled. He travelled well, he ran a race, he was enthusiastic and just got tired from the back of the last, so if you trained him you’d be thrilled.
“Did he run as he was doing two years ago? Well obviously he didn’t, but you can still be thrilled with the way he ran. He’s obviously done plenty of work and come Cheltenham on better ground, he’ll probably improve again.
“Sire De Grugy is going to Newbury and then we’ll know more, but the Queen Mother has an open look to it.”
Oliver Sherwood is hoping his Hennessy Gold Cup winner Many Clouds can take another step forward when he runs in the BetBright Cup Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.
The Upper Lambourn trainer is keen to get experience of the Prestbury Park course into the eight-year-old ahead of a crack at the Betfred Gold Cup in March.
Many Clouds’ only previous run over fences there told Sherwood little as the horse was brought down in the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival. However, Sherwood will have to wait until tomorrow to discover potential opposition as the Grade Two race, formerly known as the Argento Chase, has been re-opened after just eight entries were received.
“I’m very happy with his progress and we haven’t missed a day with him,” Sherwood said.
“Cheltenham has always been the first choice. I want him to have a spin round Cheltenham because he got brought down in the RSA and to have some experience of Cheltenham.
“The Irish Hennessy as well as the Denman Chase at Newbury are second and third reserves in case the weather falls foul and we have to have substitutes for that reason.
“Barring the RSA, every chase he has run in he has improved. He’s on a career high of 161 and he’s got 10lb to 12lb to find to warrant being a serious Gold Cup horse.
“He will have an entry in the Grand National but I’ve not really discussed it with Mr (Trevor) Hemmings (owner) or Mr (Michael) Meagher (his racing manager).
“Hopefully the Gold Cup is the first target and if something happened in the Gold Cup we’ve got the National to fall back on.
“Soft ground is quite important, but he wouldn’t not handle good ground. If he ran well on Saturday and we went straight to the Gold Cup I’d love the Festival to be on softer ground, but I don’t think it’s imperative.
“We just know he handles soft ground and I’d like it to be the same.”
Coneygree’s name will be missing from the list of entries as he tweaked a leg muscle at the weekend and connections are being cautious..