Saphir Du Rheu jostles with Hennessy rival The Young Master at CarlislePICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Newbury ground should suit Saphir - Nicholls
THE soft ground on Newbury’s chase course could become more testing before the Hennessy Gold Cup but Paul Nicholls does not envisage any problems for Saphir Du Rheu, favourite and topweight for Saturday’s Grade 3 handicap.
On Friday the going at Newbury was described by jockey Richard Johnson as "hard work but not heavy".
Showers are forecast overnight and a Met Office yellow weather warning is in place for Saturday with wind speeds forecast between 50 and 60mph.
Nicholls, bidding to saddle his fourth Hennessy winner said: "I don’t think the going will be a problem. Soft ground will suit him well, he’s very much a stayer. I thought a couple of times in the spring, especially at Cheltenham and Aintree, the ground was quick enough for him."
Left at the top of the handicap to carry 11st 12lb after the weights rose following the defection of Coneygree, Saphir Du Rheu will have to muster a Denman-esque performance to succeed.
"It makes it harder when you have a big weight,” added Nicholls. “He’s a big strong horse and realistically if he is going to compete in the big races in the future he has to be competitive off that mark, but the handicap favours the bottom weights when the ground is testing."
The Young Master finished seven lengths behind Saphir Du Rheu at Carlisle this month and will be ridden by Gold Cup-winning amateur Sam Waley-Cohen after his father Robert bought a share in the horse.
Neil Mulholland also sends out Cheltenham Festival winner The Druids Nephew, but slightly prefers the prospects of The Young Master.
"He has really benefited from his return behind Saphir Du Rheu, which he really needed,” the trainer said. “He'd just about be the pick of my pair and I think he has a serious chance.”
Should ground conditions deteriorate any further, The Druids Nephew’s participation would be in doubt.
"He wouldn't want too much give in the ground and won't run if it's very soft," Mulholland added.
"Wherever he goes the worry is he's now 10lb higher than his Cheltenham win on 156 and he still has to prove he's up to it."
Smad Place and Bobs Worth, both available around the 7-1 mark, offer the main resistance to 9-2 favourie Saphir Du Rheu in the Hennessy betting.