Inside Track - Nicholl's Easter rising high at Kempton
Paul Nicholls' unexposed chaser can be leading player
Paul Nicholls depends on Rocky Creek and Easter Day in the Betbright Chase at Kempton, with stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies opting for the former in the £100,000 handicap.
It is a competitive renewal of the once prestigious three-miler, with Lucy Wadham's recent Sandown winner Le Reve sure to figure under Leighton Aspell. Emma Lavelle's Fox Appeal is another with live claims, having finished second to last week's Grade One winner Balder Succes and Rebel Rebellion on its last two outings.
Still, Nicholls' duo are worthy of special attention. Although Easter Day is shorter in the betting, you can see why Twiston-Davies opted for the older of the two horses. The nine-year-old Rocky Creek has shown a consistently high level of form, and he was second to Road To Riches in Down Royal's Grade One chase in November.
With Road To Riches among the leading Gold Cup candidates now, that form reads well. In the Hennessy Gold Cup next time, Rocky Creek struggled in testing conditions under a big burden, and he has since been dropped a couple of pounds by the handicapper to a mark of 154, which is just two pounds higher than when he was a fine second in the Hennessy last season.
He cannot be written off on the basis of one bad run, so it would be no surprise to see him make the frame at double-figure odds. That said, Easter Day appeals as the likeliest winner, as he is a more progressive individual with the scope to step up considerably.
In three starts as a novice, the Malinas seven-year-old won his final two, latterly giving the subsequent RSA Chase winner O'Faolains Boy a fair beating at Ascot in December when he was conceding four pounds.
It was a year before he turned out again at Newbury, where he ran with plenty credit to be third behind two race-fit rivals in Tinker Time and Masters Hill, which has since been chinned at Kempton before skating up at Exeter.
Having led over the last at Newbury, there was a suggestion that Easter Day didn't stay on his first stab at three miles. However, he ran all the way to the line, simply getting done for a bit of sharpness.
On his only subsequent start, he was travelling sweetly off today's mark of 142 at Cheltenham when he landed clumsily over the tricky third-last fence and crashed out.
It was too far out to say with any conviction how he would have fared, but he was certainly travelling far easier at the time than the eventual winner Annacotty. While Easter Day is generally an excellent jumper, he simply paid the price for a simple mistake on that occasion.
It was the first time that he has ever fallen, so he should learn from it, and he gets in here under Nick Scholfield off a lovely weight of 10st 13lb.
If he enjoys the requisite slice of good fortune in this 16-runner affair, odds of 5/1 about him making amends could end up looking quite generous.