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Expect Nicholls to still be in the Hunt

NO Kauto Star, no Denman, no championship for Paul Nicholls... that was the early prognosis.

Before a handful of graded races had been run this winter, there were some who were adamant that the National Hunt trainer was going to be in decline this season and Nicky Henderson would be knocking him off his perch as champion trainer.

In fact, there were those who made a solid argument that Henderson's closest challenge to be champion would come from the emerging Donald McCain.

Nicholls hardly got bogged down by such predictions, and either way, certainly let his horses do the talking last weekend.

There is no questioning the immense talent that Henderson has at his disposal with Sprinter Sacre, Finian's Rainbow, Simonsig, Oscar Whisky, Bobs Worth and Riverside Theatre just a selection of his frightfully dangerous ammunition.

Maybe this will be the season that brings a changing of the guard at the top rank, but it won't be without a fight and those bookies who priced it 1/5 Henderson and 7/2 Nicholls for the championship are now back to a more realistic 7/4 Nicholls and 2/5 Henderson.


Of course, Nicholls' successful raid on Down Royal won't afford him any slack in the race to be Britain's champion trainer, but the wins of Kauto Stone and Cristal Bonus in the two feature races of the day proved that other big prizes await for the pair, who further enhanced Nicholls' record on Irish shores. Daryl Jacob was the man on board and that was testament to the chances of Tidal Bay and, most notably, Silviniaco Conti at Wetherby, where Ruby Walsh was in business.

Hinterland embarked on his chasing career as a four-year-old yesterday, finishing runner-up at Exeter, and Sire Collonges is already making claims to be one of the better staying novices and a potential Grand National horse in time.

Anyone would be excused a lean spell after the departure of Kauto Star and Denman, but Nicholls and his team certainly are not ready to shirk away from the task ahead and still have plenty of quality to put it up to any rivals -- as last weekend proved.