Paul Nicholls Cheltenham team – Five Ditcheat Festival stars
Brian Healy picks out five top stars from Paul Nicholls’ Cheltenham team for the upcoming Festival who might be worth keeping onside in their respective big-race targets over the course of four fantastic days’ horse racing action.
There has been something of a changing of the guard at Cheltenham in respect to the Champion Trainer crown in recent years, and the prize for top trainer was one farmed exclusively by Paul Nicholls between 2004 and 2009 whe the Ditcheat handler had top stars such as Master Minded, Denman, Kauto Star, Big Buck’s and other household names within his ranks.
Howard Johnston in 2005 was the only trainer to break Nicholls’ dominance in that period, but since his last trainers’ title in 2009 the Ditcheat handler hasn’t had the ammunition at his disposal to compete with Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson or Gordon Elliott.
Nicholls only saddled two winners each at the last two Cheltenham Festivals but he can continue to enjoy some success again in the upcoming extravaganza where he is likely to send out a solid team in search of winners although he perhaps lacks a ‘banker’ over the course of the four days.
We look at the pick of the Ditcheat trainer’s equine stars and pick out five top stars from the Paul Nicholls’ Cheltenham team who could land the trainer a winner during Festival week and add to his 45 Festival.
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL TOP TRAINER TIPS – BETTING SPECIAL
PAUL NICHOLLS CHELTENHAM TEAM – TOP DITCHEAT FESTIVAL RUNNERS
SOLO (Triumph Hurdle)
Onlookers to Kempton’s Adonis Juvenile Hurdle on Saturday wouldn’t have failed to have been impressed by the manner in which the French import Solo ran out a comfortable winner of that Grade Two prize.
Owned by Johnny de la Hey, the Kapgarde colt sauntered to a thirteenlengths’ victory in that first start for Paul Nicholls following his switch from Guillame Macaire for whom he had won at Auteuil.
He was immediately installed as favourite on the back of that first UK into the Triumph Hurdle betting and with the potential to improve further following that success he looks a strong candidate to land Paul Nicholls’ Cheltenham team a third Triumph Hurdle success following Celestial Halo (2008) and Zarkandar (2011).
FRODON (Ryanair Chase)
The ever-popular Frodon delivered one of the biggest moments of last year’s Cheltenham Festival when gamely battling back under Bryony Frost to defeat Aso and win the Grade One Ryanair Chase.
Frost became the first female rider to ride a Grade One winner at the Festival – followed just 24 hours later by Rachael Blackmore – and she’ll be reunited again with her most willing of partners when the pair head to post in Thursday’s Grade One contest.
Third on each of his first two starts this term, including in the Betfair Chase, the Nickname gelding got back to winning ways at Kempton when last seen.
Although he has an entry in the Gold Cup he’s more likely to be Paul Nicholls’ Cheltenham team representative in the Ryanair Chase where he’ll bid to defend his crown. If successful he’d become only the second dual-winner, repeating Alberta’s Run’s feat in 2010 and 2011.
CLAN DES OBEAUX (Gold Cup)
Steadily progressive over fences in recent seasons, Clan Des Obeaux made a big breakthrough chasing home Might Bite in the 2018 Aintree Bowl; the Kapgarde gelding collected a Grade One the following season, beating Thistlecrack in the 2018 King George VI Chase.
He also won last season’s Denman Chase before running a very solid fifth in the Gold Cup, and he found only Kemboy too strong in the Aintree Bowl las tApril.
Beaten on his reappearance in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase, he bounced back to winning ways with an impressive successful defence of his King George VI Chase crown with a defeat of Cyrname.
Along with Frodon he is perhaps the Ditcheat flagbearer amongst Paul Nicholls’ Cheltenham team and another crack at the Gold Cup looks on the agenda.
SIR PSYCHO (Fred Winter Hurdle )
The Zoffany gelding took his hurdles record since joining the Ditcheat handler from Eddie Harty in Ireland to three from five starts with an impressive display to land the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle at Haydock where he ran out an eight lengths’ winner.
That race has proved a stepping stone in the past for some notable types including stablemate Frodon as well as the likes of Top Notch, Une Artiste and Houblon Des Obeaux.
He won easily and was always in command at the Merseyside venue where he jumped and travelled well throughout, and he only needed to be pushed out to score.
Another of the Paul Nicholls Cheltenham team who boasts a decent chance of success, he holds both a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and a Triumph Hurdle entry. But with the yard also having Solo for the latter race he could well turn out in the Fred Winter Hurdle instead with the test of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle perhaps too much for him at this stage.
BOB AND CO (Foxhunters Chase)
Owner/jockey David Maxwell does well his French imports and Bob And Co could prove an ideal candidate for the Foxhunters Chase.
Paul Nicholls’ Cheltenham team usually boasts one or two solid candidates for the amateur riders’ Gold Cup; in Bob And Co the yard looks to hold a strong hand having won two of his three starts impressively since joining this yard.
Plenty went wrong at Warwick on his debut for Nicholls with the horse pulling hard and forcing his rider to pull up after suffering a bout of cramp so he couldn’t ride on. But he showed what he was capable of with a bloodless defeat of Ballynagour on his next start before out-pointing Alcala at Fontwell latest.
A useful sort in France, the strapping nine-year old should cope with the demands of the Foxhunters Chase and he should put up a bold show.