Nicholls rules out Hennessy for Kauto
Kauto Star is on target for a crack at winning a historic fifth King George at Kempton and running in a fourth Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Paul Nicholls' challenge for the Hennessy at Newbury will be spearheaded by Denman.
Nicholls argued yesterday that it would be best to go straight to the King George with Kauto, especially as the gelding had already run at Down Royal earlier this month. The Hennessy is off the agenda.
"Kauto Star came back from Down Royal a little bit quiet, as you would expect after the travelling and a hard race, and you need to be at the top of your game to win a Hennessy, especially when running off a mark of 190," Nicholls said.
Nicholls has stressed that it may have been too big a risk taking the Newbury route with the Clive Smith-owned gelding. He stressed there was a real danger the Hennessy might leave its mark.
Smith, who has studied the great steeplechasing champions, has long believed that Kauto Star could win acclamation similar to that of Arkle and Desert Orchid by adding one of the major handicaps to his impressive CV.
Before discussing the matter with Nicholls yesterday, he said: "I think that taking on Denman, giving him weight, would be a fair race and if I could be reasonably sure that the edge would not be taken off him, I would be for it."
But the trainer clearly believes it's chancing matters, with the King George being top priority. In any case, he will, in all probability, have five runners in the Hennessy -- Denman, Neptune Collonges, Taranis, The Tother One and Niche Market.
Then there was the question of a jockey for Kauto Star. With Ruby Walsh out of action through injury until the end of February, who would have ridden the champion? "There will be plenty of time to talk about a jockey (for the King George)," Smith said.
Denman, of course, will bid to create his own piece of history at Newbury by becoming the first horse to land the Hennessy three times. The 10-year-old last season joined the legendary Arkle and Mandarin as a two-time winner of the prestigious handicap.
Nicholls will rely on the What A Friend, owned by Alex Ferguson, to take on Nigel Twiston-Davies' stable star Imperial Commander in Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup hero will attempt to go one better after losing out by a nose to Kauto Star after a titanic battle on Merseyside 12 months ago. "He's in great nick and we are looking forward to the race at Haydock. He's raring to go," said Twiston-Davies.
The Tom George-trained Nacarat -- already seen to good effect this season having produced an impressive display to land the Charlie Hall Chase -- is entered along with Planet Of Sound from the Philip Hobbs yard, while recent Ascot winner Massini's Maguire may take his chance for the David Pipe team.
Ryanair Chase hero Albertas Run, Jimmy Moffatt's stable star Chief Dan George, Atouchbetweenacara, Silver By Nature and Howard Johnson's mercurial talent Tidal Bay complete the possibles. Albertas Run, trained by Jonjo O'Neill, also holds an entry in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot the same day.
"The Betfair Chase is still an option for Albertas Run and we will make a decision later in the week whether he goes to Haydock or heads to Ascot," said Mick Meagher, racing manager to owner Trevor Hemmings.
Meanwhile, Paul Carberry hopes to be back in action at the weekend after breaking a bone in a foot at Navan earlier this month.
The jockey suffered the injury when brought down on Jetson in a maiden hurdle at Navan on November 7. With his boss Noel Meade saddling two big-race winners at Punchestown on Sunday, Carberry is itching to get back in the saddle.
"I'm going for a check-up on Friday and then we'll see if I'm ready for the weekend," said Carberry. "If not, I'll probably be back the weekend after." (© Daily Telegraph, London)