The seven-year-old was runner-up to Cole Harden in the three-mile contest last season and while connections had hoped to pursue a Gold Cup bid this term, a comprehensive defeat in the Hennessy at Newbury forced them to revert to the smaller obstacles.
The switch failed to make an immediate impact as Saphir Du Rheu finished well behind red-hot World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack in the Long Walk at Ascot in December, but the champion trainer feels his charge could at least close the gap on a sounder surface.
Speaking at a Cheltenham preview after racing at Ascot on Saturday, Nicholls said: “Thistlecrack has been very impressive on soft ground, but if it dries up at Cheltenham it is going to make things a bit different, he does look very solid, though.
“Saphir Du Rheu was second in the race last year. He does want better ground so don’t rule him out as he is going very nicely at home.
“I’ve just got a feeling that he will show the best of his form if the ground dries up.”
Nicholls also has a second potential World Hurdle challenger in the form of Aux Ptits Soins.
The John Hales-owned gelding has not been seen in competitive action since winning the Coral Cup at last year’s Festival.
“Aux Ptits Soins did a really good gallop at Wincanton last week. The problem with him is that he has had three lots of surgery and an anaesthetic in the autumn and that is just in the back of my mind,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“Its been hard training him. He came back on January 1. Whereas last year we started with a big, strong horse, he has been very lean and we’ve had to do it the reverse way with him.
“It would be no surprise if he ran a very big race.”
Nicholls meanwhile admits Dodging Bullets needs to raise his game significantly if he is to successfully defend his crown in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The eight-year-old was sidelined for the best part of a year following his Festival heroics last March and the trainer was left disappointed after he was beaten 10 lengths by Top Gamble on his return to action at Newbury.
Nicholls expects his charge to raise his game at Prestbury Park, but admitted that last year’s Arkle Trophy hero Un De Sceaux will be a tough nut to crack in the two-mile chasing championship.
“Dodging Bullets probably ran okay but I was a bit disappointed as Harry (Derham) my nephew rides him every day, and although he is a good work horse, he convinced me he was going to win,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“He had probably only been back in training for eight weeks from his injury. We expected him to win a championship race on his first run which was probably asking a bit too much. He needs to improve and he probably will improve.
“If Un De Sceaux turns up like he did at Ascot he will be very hard to beat.”