Nicholls seeks Kempton Redemption
Nicholls seeks Kempton redemption
Those who thought Paul Nicholls' days of dominating Kempton's King George VI Chase were over when Kauto Star left the winner's enclosure two years ago were seriously mistaken.
For Nicholls has lined up two outstanding chances in Al Ferof and Silviniaco Conti for the latest edition of the St Stephen's Day feature and having lost his stranglehold on the champion trainer's crown last season, regaining this prize would be redemption in many ways.
Kauto Star was successful in 2006, '07, '08, '09 and 2011, but Nicholls had also earlier won it with See More Business in 1997 and '99. The type of horse he recruits seems well suited to this demanding three-mile test, which, more often than not, is run at a furious pace
Hence the need for a solid stayer, which can still be digging deep when the chips are down in the home straight, and the former champion is optimistic both his charges have the right ingredients.
"They're both well and worked nicely last week," revealed the master of Ditcheat. "Everything is on schedule. I think the rain at Kempton will definitely help Silviniaco Conti; you'd be worried it wouldn't suit him so well round there if it was quick.
"Al Ferof is well, there is a bit of a doubt at the trip on softer ground but he's by Dom Alco, they stay well, and he looked like he was staying on up the hill when winning the Paddy Power last year. I can't split them really."
Recent headlines regarding Cue Card's well-being have confused the betting picture slightly. Trainer Colin Tizzard has been at pains to point out that the favourite is well in himself and continuing to do well at home, despite some others in the yard being off-colour.
Cue Card's win in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month set the standard for chasing's elite this season. His jumping out in front of his rivals was superb and there were no excuses for those that chased him home -- Dynaste (second), Silviniaco Conti (third) and Long Run (fourth) -- which all reoppose.
"We're absolutely delighted with him and he came out of the Haydock race very well," Tizzard said.
"I thought he was nearly unbeatable at Exeter, but apparently the last win in a handicap off his rating was Denman (2009 Hennessy) so that puts it into perspective. He didn't jump as well as he could have, for whatever reason, but he put that to bed at Haydock. The race brought him on and we were a bit harder on him. He takes it ever so well.
"He looked as though he's a dour stayer. Most Champion Bumper horses have ended up three-milers or three-mile plus and at Haydock he was in his comfort zone when the rest were flat out.
"It was the first time he had run over (three miles), in last year's King George, it wasn't his day but he put that to bed for the rest of the season."
While Tizzard had been anxious to quash worries about Cue Card, rival trainer David Pipe reports Dynaste in rude health and ready to peak on the day, just as Nicholls has been bullish about his contenders.
One suspects that the benefit of that outing at Haydock will bring the beaten horses much closer this time. "I only wish the race were tomorrow," Pipe quipped, which is a positive pointer.
Nicky Henderson's Long Run, a dual-winner after snatching victory from Captain Chris (which misses the race after banging a joint schooling), obviously merits respect, but he is looking for the Aintree fences more than ever now.
"I love being under the radar this year," Henderson said. "He has won three times and been second once at Kempton so it's a course that suits him. The older he gets, the longer it takes him to get fit but he is jumping much better than he did in his younger days."
An epic race is also in prospect for the Christmas Hurdle, which could have been a stand-alone highlight on any card, when The New One clashes with My Tent Or Yours. The New One impressed at Cheltenham earlier this month, but this is his biggest test yet.
Sam Twiston-Davies, rider of The New One for his father Nigel, is aware he will be in a tactical battle with Tony McCoy and My Tent Or Yours. The in-form jockey held on to his mount until before the final flight in the International before he raced clear on the run-in.
"Obviously we were very happy with him at Cheltenham," he stated. "He has a very high cruising speed and the one thing about him is he has a really sharp turn of foot at the end, when you go for him it's instant. How we ride him will be different to Cheltenham as My Tent Or Yours is very similar to us in the way he can travel, with a high cruising speed and a turn of foot as well." (© Daily Telegraph, London)