2021 Cheltenham Festival runners – A look at Paul Nicholls’ best Festival contenders
Paul Nicholls Cheltenham Festival contenders
One of the leading trainers at the Cheltenham Festival, Paul Nicholls is sure to saddle some live winning chances throughout the four days of the 2021 meeting as the master of Ditcheat bids to add to his tally of 46 winners. We look at some of the more likely Paul Nicholls Cheltenham Festival contenders who could post big performances.
Having claimed three winners at the Festival in 1999 top trainer Paul Nicholls has saddled at least one winner every year at the Cheltenham Festival since 2003 and his impressive haul of victories include four Gold Cup wins and the same number of Champion Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle successes which in no small part came down to a highly successful partnership with top Irish rider Ruby Walsh.
The top trainer will be surely well-represented again throughout the four days of the upcoming Festival with some solid chances of success and we’ve picked out some of the Nicholls battalion who could go close to picking up Cheltenham Festival gold.
Cheltenham Festival Day One tips
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Nicholls has won this race twice, most recently with Al Ferof in 2011 and the Ditcheat maestro is likely to rely on his ATHOLL STREET as his main Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hope this time around.
Owned by Trevor Hemmings the Jeremy gelding has looked a potentially smart performer over hurdles where he is 2-2 this term at the time of writing, scoring decisive wins at Taunton towards the end of last year.
He made all to bolt up by 16 lengths last when last seen out beating Heart Of A Lion and there’s surely better to come from him as he gains further experience. The bare form of his two wins is certainly not the strongest on offer compared to the likes of Appreciate It or Metier, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the Nicholls runner make his presence felt in the Cheltenham Festival day one opener.
David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle
EGLANTINE DU SEUIL may be one flying under the radar and a return to the sort of form that saw her run out a shock 50/1 winner of the mares’ novices’ contest a couple of seasons ago wouldn’t be the biggest surprise.
That win came while under the care of Willie Mullins where she beat current ante-post favourite Concertista and the Saddler Maker mare failed to add to her tally in six further starts for the Closutton handler although she did place twice more in Grade Ones and ran well in strong handicaps prior to joining the Ditcheat team.
She’s been running better than her bare form figures suggest in tackling decent handicaps and most recently she faced a stiff task behind Roksana over three miles which may have stretched her. Her best runs have come at this venue with a win and a runner-up effort and while she was unplaced in the Coral Cup at the last Festival she ran better than the bare result off a very stiff mark.
That run also came on the Old Course, while her win and place were on the New Course and with the Mares’ Hurdle taking place on the latter she isn’t one to overlook competing off level weights in a race that may well cut up as several of the principals head to other targets.
National Hunt Chase
NEXT DESTINATION was a high-class chaser for Willie Mullins over hurdles, winning twice in Grade One company including beating Delta Work and the Dubai Destination has hit the ground running since joining Paul Nicholls ahead of this campaign.
Returning from a long absence he found only Roksana too strong on his return over hurdles at Wetherby back in October and he’s since won both subsequent outings at Newbury and Warwick respectively in Grade Two races.
He jumped well at Warwick when last seen taking the Hampton Novices’ Chase and he was strong at the finish despite hitting a flat-spot mid-race which suggests he could be suited by the greater test of stamina this race would present him and likely to have further improvement to come he could prove a big danger to all despite his trainer’s dismal record in the contest.
Cheltenham Festival Day Two runners
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Nicholls has yet to win this race while Irish-trained runners have won seven of the last ten renewals; however BRAVEMANSGAME could well give the Ditcheat trainer a first success in the two day opener and halt the Irish dominance of the race.
There’s been a lot to like about the Brave Mansonnien gelding’s performances over hurdles since stepping up in trip and he brought up his hat-trick when routing a previously impressive winner in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury when beating Star Gate by ten lengths.
He’s a hugely exciting talent who could have more to offer and he’s a lively contender to give Nicholls a Festival winner to open the second day of Cheltenham.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
POLITOLOGUE is in his veteran years now and the defending champion is likely to face a very tough task in defending the crown he won twelve months ago when beating stablemate Dynamite Dollars by almost ten lengths.
Of course that race cut up badly with both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi being scratched at the eleventh hour; while red-hot favourite Defi Du Seuil turned in a horrible performance and was beaten some way out.
He has proven his class time and again however and he was impressive in making a winning reappearance at Sandown when taking the Tingle Creek Chase from Greaneteen although he was no match for First Flow in the Clarence House Chase when next seen in action and he’ll need to bounce back.
This will be his fourth run in the Champion Chase where his record reads 421 and he’ll give it another good go in defence of his crown although he’s likely to prove vulnerable to some of the younger horses in opposition.
Cheltenham Festival Day Three tips
Nicholls won the Ryanair Chase twelve months ago with the popular Frodon who is likely this year to have a crack at the Gold Cup leaving stablemate CYRNAME as Nicholls’ most likely runner in the contest in the Cheltenham Festival day three feature.
The Nickname gelding was the first to defeat Altior over obstacles when outpointing that rival to win the 2019 Christy 1965 Chase after which he finished runner-up in the King George VI Chase at Kempton although he ran poorly when falling in the Ascot Chase last February and he was put away for the season.
The Charlie Hall Chase winner on his return he flopped back at Kempton in this season’s King George VI Chase where he was pulled up. Despite that lesser effort he could bounce back although it remains to be seen whether a course like Cheltenham will play to his strengths.
It seems a long while since Big Bucks’s won a fourth straight Stayers’ Hurdle crown for Paul Nicholls and MCFABULOUS is likely to carry the Ditcheat hopes of success in the race this time around.
The Progressive Milan gelding ended last season with back-to-back wins and returned this term to impressively scoop the first prize in the Persian War Hurdle before stepping up to this trip in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Although beaten in that occasion behind Thyme Hill and Paisley Park he turned in a very good performance in third even though he might just have found himself being stretched by the trip and he certainly appreciated the lesser distance when bouncing back to winning ways at Kempton last month.
He won easily that day from On The Blind Side who won next time out but he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s to reverse Newbury form back over this longer trip with the uphill finish likely to provide a searching stamina test he’s not certain to pass and he might be better served by a flatter track.
Cheltenham Festival Day Four runners
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Nicholls could have two decent chances in the novices’ staying championship with BARBADOS BUCK’S and Threeunderthrufive both potential contenders in the Cheltenham Festival day four feature.
The first-named has gone from strength to strength since being stepped up to three miles where he’s won all three starts over the longer trip at Southwell twice and Kempton, impressive on the latter occasion when beating Fedelta by four lengths.
He looks sure to improve as does THREEUNDERTHRUFIVE who extended his unbeaten record over hurdles to three with a narrow success over Fantastikas at Musselburgh recently and a line on that rival would suggest he’s closely matched with his stablemate who beat the same horse at Southwell by a similar margin of victory.
That was the Shantou gelding’s first attempt at three miles and he got the trip well although three miles at Cheltenham will be a different proposition to the same at Musselburgh given their wholly different layout.
He still looked inexperienced at Musselburgh, needing to be cajoled along having been a little keen and there could be better still to come. He looks worth a crack at a big prize he’s a decent outsider to consider.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
While Al Boum Photo will garner a lot of attention as he bids to become the first triple-winner of the Gold Cup since Best Mate there’d surely be no more popular winner of the Cheltenham Festival showpiece than FRODON who loves it at Cheltenham and won the Ryanair Chase twelve months ago.
Imperial Commander had won the Ryanair Chase prior to landing the Gold Cup for Nigel Twiston-Davies and Frodon will bid to emulate that horse when treading a similar path although he comes here having won the King George VI Chase in thrilling fashion despite jumping left.
He’ll be happier going back this way round at what has been a happy hunting ground for him and he’s proven beyond doubt he gets three miles comfortably. Quite whether he’d be able to dominate a top-class field over the even longer trip of the Gold Cup is debatable, but his solid jumping will certainly be an asset again as he bids to give Nicholls a first Blue Riband win since Kauto Star in 2009.
He’s certainly worth a crack at the greatest prize and it would be no surprise to see a big performance from him at a venue that clearly brings out the best in him.
Nicholls is no stranger to success in this race and SHANTOU FLYER could prove the pick of his entries having joined the yard from Rose Loxton.
The veteran Shantou gelding has made the frame in the last two renewals of this race, finishing runner-up to Hazel Hill in 2019 and then bagging a bronze medal twelve months ago where he wasn’t helped by a couple of late mistakes.
Age might be catching up with him but he ran well at Wincanton on his return and first run for Nicholls and he’ll likely be in the mix again at the business end of the race especially if there’s plenty of rain about.