At his pre-Cheltenham press day on Thursday, Paul Nicholls spoke about the importance of timing, telling reporters that dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux will be ridden more patiently in next month’s Gold Cup in a bid to improve on last year’s fifth place finish in the Festival’s showpiece event.
England’s champion trainer is a proven expert when it comes to the subject and a staggering strikerate of 36% over the last fortnight suggests he’s hitting top form at just the right time with the Festival just around the corner.
Last weekend he introduced a seriously smart prospect in Solo, a horse who catapulted himself to the head of the market for the JCB Triumph Hurdle with a deeply impressive display in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. Another triumph for timing.
And Nicholls again looks the man to follow today as he boasts leading chances in most of the day’s big races.
Nicholls is particularly well represented in the William Hill Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Newbury where last year’s winner San Benedeto, Secret Investor, and Mont Des Avaloirs will fly the Ditcheat flag. Given Nicholls has already won this Grade Three contest nine times it’s no surprise his three runners are towards the head of the market.
Of that trio, Mont Des Avaloirs appeals most. The seven-year-old is winless in three starts this season but there was little shame in finishing fourth to RSA favourite Champ and second to the smart Angels Breath in Grade Two contests before Christmas.
He again found one too good last time out when second to Sussex Ranger, to whom he was giving over a stone, in a Newbury handicap. He didn’t seem to get home over a trip just shy of three miles on that occasion so dropping back to two and a half looks a smart move. A big run can be expected.
Nicholls could also dominate today’s Doncaster card and his Cilla Anna is very difficult to oppose in the 888Sport Take ‘Em On Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. The selection won at Warwick on New Year’s Eve and has since followed up at Wincanton. She should complete the hat-trick today.
Stablemate Dolos has more on his plate in the 888Sport Bet £10 Get £30 Handicap Chase but he defied top weight to win at Sandown at the start of the month and can repeat the trick here. Like Dolos, Blackjack Kentucky also won last time out and a repeat of the display was saw him swat leading Grand National contender Walk In The Mill aside by four and a half lengths at Chepstow last month would make him hard to beat in the 888Sport Handicap Hurdle.
Kelso’s feature is the Grade Two William Hill Premier Novices’ Hurdle. Jennie Candlish’s Cheddleton and Ruth Jefferson’s Clondaw Caitlin will both have their supporters having put together impressive sequences in recent months but Calva D’Auge has done the same and the Nicholls representative may be able to complete the hat-trick.
Nicholls also saddles likely favourite Worthy Farm in the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase, Doncaster’s feature, but Chidswell was an emphatic winner of this race last year and the 11-year-old might just be able to repeat the feat.
That Nicky Richards’ charge hasn’t won a race since is an obvious negative but finishing second to Claud and Goldie at Kelso in December was a step in the right direction and he stayed on well to finish third to Ok Corral over three miles in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last month, an effort that suggests the additional two furlongs he’ll face here will really suit. He looks a rock-solid each-way contender.
Several old favourites will strut their stuff in the William Hill Supporting Greatwood Veterans’ Handicap Chase. Preference is for Le Rocher. Nick Williams’ charge has never raced quite as far as this before but he didn’t stop when third to Deise Aba over three miles on testing ground at Sandown at the start of the month and that augurs well for his prospects of seeing today’s test out.
Doncaster 1.50: Blackjack Kentucky
Newbury 2.05: Le Rocher
Doncaster 2.25: Dolos
Kelso 2.45: Calva D’Auge
Doncaster 3.00: Cill Anna (NB)
Newbury 3.15: Mont Des Avaloirs (Nap)
Doncaster 3.35: Chidswell (Each-way)