Nicholls relies on Old Guard for Cheltenham test
Paul Nicholls believes Old Guard will relish the step back up to an extended two-and-a-half miles in the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham today.
Old Guard took a handicap over this distance at Newbury four weeks ago and was not beaten far when fifth to My Tent Or Yours in the two-mile International Hurdle on this course just two weeks ago. The only concern Nicholls has is if this race comes too soon after that creditable effort.
"He's been crying out for two-and-a-half miles. He seems fine and I'm looking forward to running him," said the Ditcheat handler, whose six-year-old will be reunited with rising star Bryony Frost, who was in the saddle at Newbury.
"It's a nice opportunity for him. I just hope it's not too quick for him after his run at Cheltenham the other day, but he seems well."
The Fergal O'Brien stable is on a high after Poetic Rhythm gave the trainer a first Grade One success at Newbury on Saturday and Colin's Sister bids to keep up the good work in this Grade Two contest. The mare made a triumphant seasonal re-appearance in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby and was far from disgraced when fourth to surprise winner Beer Goggles in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
"I am not worried about the drop back in distance," said O'Brien. "Paddy (Brennan) was quite patient on her at Wetherby and Newbury, but over this trip on softer ground he will be able to ride her like he did at Sandown and Haydock last season when she won well.
"The nice thing this time is that she gets quite a bit of weight from some of the others and I think that will be important."
Colin's Sister finished in front of Wholestone at both Wetherby and Newbury, but Nigel Twiston-Davies is full of hope for his runner.
"He's been working well and must have a good chance," he said. "He didn't run a very good race the last day, but he should do better this time."
Oliver Sherwood usually keeps Rayvin Black to right-handed tracks but feels this is a good opportunity with the ground being testing.
"He loves this ground. That's the only reason I put him in really," said the Upper Lambourn trainer.
"The others might not hack it and he's not got the toe he had when he was younger. If he picks up some place money it will be happy days.
"He's in great form. Whether we can finish in the first four time will tell, but I think he will get the trip.
"He's probably better going right-handed, but he did nothing wrong at Ffos Las the other day (when second to Potters Bay). That's why he's not run at Cheltenham before. Sandown has been his bag and you are limited where you run these horses."
Completing the list of eight runners are Agrapart, Anteros, Qualando and Royal Vacation.
O'Brien, meanwhile, has his sights set on Cheltenham with Poetic Rhythm following his landmark success in the Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.
After chasing down long-time leader Mulcahys Hill, the 15/8 favourite forged on over the last in the hands of Brennan, before repelling the late fightback from the brave Warren Greatrex-trained runner by a short head.
O'Brien said: "That is our first Grade One and I'm absolutely over the moon. When the chips are down you know you want 'George' on your side. He is just so tough.
"We had the right horse and jockey on our side and he has really dug deep. Three weeks ago he was at the vets with colic. We are so lucky to have such good people around us. I think he will be better on better ground, but he is so tough.
"He will go straight to Cheltenham for the Albert Bartlett."
Newbury's Betfred Mandarin Chase has a roll of honour featuring both Gold Cup and Grand National winners on it and, while Daklondike may not be up to that level just yet, he opened up avenues to bigger prizes in taking Saturday's three-and-a-quarter-mile test by three lengths.
Winning trainer David Pipe said of the 6/1 shot: "He doesn't make life easy for himself and he doesn't travel that well, as we saw at Wincanton last time, but in fairness he keeps responding.
"He'll be aimed at long-distance chases like the Eider and Midlands National."
Maria's Benefit looked a horse with a bright future in strolling to victory in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Taunton.
Veteran staying chaser Emperor's Choice bounced back to winning form in The Last Fling Handicap Chase at Haydock. Venetia Williams' 10-year-old had been without a win for over two years, but because of that was extremely well handicapped on his best form when he won the Welsh National in 2014.