Paul Nicholls admits he was probably expecting too much from Dodging Bullets on his first start of the season at Newbury on Saturday.
The reigning champion chaser was beaten 10 lengths by Top Gamble in the Game Spirit Chase, with his Queen Mother odds lengthening as a result.
Having had an interrupted campaign, though, Nicholls likened Dodging Bullets to a footballer returning from injury.
The Ditcheat handler said: “We felt we had him as fit as we could in the circumstances, but he had to give weight to the impressive winner Top Gamble on ground that was much more testing than ideal for a horse bred for the Flat.
“My nephew Harry Derham, who rides Dodging Bullets every day, was convinced he was going well enough at home to win.
“But the horse had only done eight weeks’ work after his setback and if he was a footballer making a comeback from injury he would only have been asked to play maybe 40 or 50 minutes, not the entire 90 minutes.
“He would then probably have a second run out for perhaps an hour the next Saturday before being ready for a full game.
“A footballer would certainly not be asked to play for 90 minutes in his first match after injury.
“So when you think about it, we were not being very realistic in expecting Dodging Bullets to perform to his very best and win after being off for that time — it would not happen in any other sport.
“Looking back now I think we asked a bit too much of Dodging Bullets first time.
“He still ran a good race in finishing second, and will appreciate better ground at Cheltenham, where he will need to improve a great deal to retain his title in the Queen Mother Champion Chase — he just might.”
Another Nicholls inmate, Vivaldi Collonges, enjoyed a better weekend, putting his name in the frame for the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr when winning at Warwick.
Nicholls had decided not to run him in the extended three-mile-one-furlong novices’ chase but when the race was reopened on Friday the champion trainer had a change of heart.
He was especially glad he did, with Vivaldi Collonges winning by a yawning 62 lengths.
“My last-minute decision to put Vivaldi Collonges back in £10,000 (€13,000) Novice Chase at Warwick on Saturday was rewarded with an easy success against two opponents,” said Nicholls.
“I thought he was a revelation at Warwick and one option for him in the spring could be the Scottish National.”
Nicholls also offered his thoughts on Modus’ disappointing effort in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
“He got a bad break from a standing start, was then nearly brought down by a faller at halfway, and was always struggling to get involved from that point,” Nicholls said.
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