Paul Nicholls expects Silviniaco Conti to thrive in testing conditions

Paul Nicholls is confident Silviniaco Conti san extend his fruitful association with the Betfair Chase at Haydock today.
Paul Nicholls expects Silviniaco Conti to thrive in testing conditions

While it may not hold the same historical ties as the King George VI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the three-mile showpiece usually attracts some of the best staying chasers in the country and is one Nicholls has dominated.

Since its inception in 2005, Nicholls has pocketed the Grade One contest a remarkable six times — with Kauto Star providing four of those victories.

Although Silviniaco Conti has some way to go to equal the exploits of his former stablemate, the nine-year-old bids to move a step closer to matching the efforts of the 16-times Grade One winner by taking this contest for a third time.

After finishing a staying-on second in his prep run over hurdles at Kempton earlier this month, Nicholls is optimistic he has the dual King George winner cherry-ripe for the weekend.

He said: “He wasn’t as far forward as I wanted to run in a Charlie Hall or anything like that, hence the run over hurdles. He has improved enormously for that run.

“He has not missed a beat since Kempton and his stamina will be very important this weekend.

“He is not a morning glory worker at home so you would never know if he was going particularly well.

“We get loads of graft into him to get him fit — Noel (Fehily) got off at Kempton and said he felt as well as ever, which is all I wanted to hear.

“The flat track on soft ground is made for him. He is in really good shape and that run will have done him the world of good.

“Really testing ground is probably ideal for him as all he does is gallop and jump.”

The King George is again likely to be on the agenda for Silviniaco Conti, but while Nicholls has not completely ruled out the Cheltenham Festival, the chances of him appearing in a fourth Gold Cup in March appear slim.

However, there is a huge ‘Chase Triple Crown’ bonus up for grabs for winning the Haydock race, the King George and the Gold Cup.

Nicholls said: “If he did happen to win the Betfair and the King George, which is all a big if this year, you would have to consider the £1m (€1.4m) bonus on offer as you don’t get that very often and it’s a big thing.

“He just lacks a bit of pace around Cheltenham and it just gets him in trouble a little bit. Flat tracks do suit him better.

“If the ground was very testing, you would enter him. I would say to suit him it would have to be very testing just to help slow them down a bit, but never say never as he might prove he is in the form of his life over fences this year, you just don’t know.”

Colin Tizzard’s stable star Cue Card is out to regain the prize he won in 2013, a year during which he also landed the Ascot Chase and the Ryanair Chase as well as filling the runner-up spot behind Silviniaco Conti in the King George.

He endured a torrid time after returning from injury last season, but looked right back to his best after a wind operation when dominating last month’s Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

“He came out of Wetherby absolutely fine. Joe (Tizzard) thinks he’s improved. We think he’s better than he was at Wetherby,” said Tizzard.

Tom Scudamore admits he found it difficult to choose between David Pipe-trained duo Dynaste and Ballynagour, eventually siding with the former, who has been placed in this race for the last two years.

There was little to choose between the pair when second and third behind Cue Card in three weeks ago.

Conor O’Farrell rides Ballynagour this weekend.

“It was a very difficult choice, they are both top-class horses and they have been great friends to me over the years,” Scudamore said.

“But at the end of the day you’re not in it for emotions, you want to win these races and I just felt Dynaste shaded it.”

The field is completed by Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell, who was fourth in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Howver, he needs to raise his game significantly after finishing fifth in the Charlie Hall.

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox