Denman to swerve tilt at Hennessy in favour of Newbury
PAUL NICHOLLS knows very well there are risks to be factored in when sending horses to Ireland, particularly with Cheltenham looming large on the horizon.
Lacklustre performances from his two raiders, Celestial Halo and Take The Breeze, at Leopardstown over the weekend would not be viewed as disastrous for the stable but still annoying in the build-up to the Festival.
Hence Nicholls, after discussing the matter with owners Paul Barber and Harry Findlay, has decided that Denman will miss the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 7.
The 2008 Gold Cup winner is among 11 entries for the Argento Chase, run over three miles, one-and-a-half furlongs at Cheltenham this Saturday, but it will be surprising if he takes his chance, despite the fact that the weight conditions of the race are very much in his favour.
"It's possible Denman will run on Saturday, but we want to see what the weather does and what the forecast is like. I'll discuss it again with Paul and Harry in a few days' time," said Nicholls, who has also entered Taranis and Inchidaly Rock, owned by Barber and Findlay, in the race.
The Aon Chase at Newbury on February 13 is favourite to be Denman's springboard to the Gold Cup, particularly as he has arguably run some of his best races at the Berkshire track.
"Paul (Nicholls) is still looking at the options, but I can assure you that Denman is in particularly fine order," Barber said. "He worked very well last week and Paul said he thought he was better than when he went to the Hennessy (in November).
"Denman loves Newbury. He would have a serious gallop before that. To be honest, I'm looking forward to taking on Kauto Star again at Cheltenham and I can tell you one thing about Denman at present, his coat is gleaming and he's got a bright eye."
Nicholls' Tricky Trickster remains the 16/1 market leader for the Grand National with William Hill after finishing second to market rival Chamirey in a novices hurdle at Fontwell yesterday.
Having won the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last year and then changed hands for 320,000 guineas and moved from Nigel Twiston-Davies to Nicholls, there was an exaggerated market move for the 4/11 favourite but he was always playing second fiddle to the Alan King-trained Chamirey on the second circuit.
Ruby Walsh's mount narrowed the gap approaching the final flight but Robert Thornton had left something up his sleeve and Chamirey kept going to score by four and a half lengths.
"That's just what I expected," Nicholls said. "I've said all along that he would not be fully wound up for his first run and we've got targets down the road, including a possible run in the Gold Cup. He'll improve enormously and we only bought him for one race. We want to do the job properly."
Nicholls and Walsh went one better in the Beginners' Chase when The Nightingale put up a fine exhibition of assured jumping to readily despatch Chariot Charger. According to Nicholls he is a horse with Cheltenham potential, with RSA Chase and The Jewson Handicap distinct possibilities.
Last year's Irish Independent Arkle Trophy hero, Forpadydeplasterer, could head for the Champion Chase without a prep run after Tom Cooper ruled his stable star out of Sunday's Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown.
"We will consider the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park (February 13), but I wouldn't want to tear the heart out of him there by running him if the ground is bottomless," said Cooper.
"It's possible that he mightn't run before Cheltenham and we might give him a racecourse school instead. It wouldn't bother me if that's the route we take."
Gowran Park's Red Mills Trial Hurdle on February 13 is the target for Jumbo Rio, which has been taken out of Newbury's Totesport Trophy on the same day by trainer Edward O'Grady.
"The Red Mills will be Jumbo Rio's next race," O'Grady said. "We'll see how he gets on before making further plans."
A four-time winner over hurdles, Jumbo Rio is an entry for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle and finished third behind Solwhit and Sublimity in the December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The Grade Two Flyingbolt Novice Chase over two miles at Navan on February 14 is the next target for another O'Grady inmate, Osana. Twice a winner over course and distance, Osana finished second to Sizing Europe in the Bord na Mona Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month. (© Daily Telegraph, London)