Foot-perfect Politologue provides Nicholls with tenth Tingle success
If Politologue is Paul Nicholls's great white hope, Harry Cobden is proving to be his white knight.
The teenager has been thrust into first-jockey responsibilities by the injury to Sam Twiston-Davies and the transition has been seamless.
When the pressure appeared greatest, the 19-year-old was nerveless in steering Politologue into the Sandown winner's enclosure after delivering Nicholls a tenth Betfair Tingle Creek victory and himself the most important win of his career.
Politologue had spurned a chance at Grade 1 glory at Aintree in April when stumbling and coming down after jumping the last fence in front, but was foot perfect this time.
The Haldon Gold Cup winner was settled off the expected fierce gallop set by Ar Mad, taking up the running at the Pond fence and then repelling everything favourite Fox Norton could throw at him over the final two fences to win by half a length, with Ar Mad third.
Cobden's mother, Sarah, was in tears. "I would say it would be one of her proudest moments," said Cobden. "She doesn't cry very often.
"It's a lovely day and the horse stayed on really well in the closing stages," he continued. "I got in a lovely rhythm and he was pinging every fence. He's very slick.
"I was thinking, 'Where was Fox Norton?' when I jumped the last, but I made sure I wasn't going to stop riding because I knew he was stalking me somewhere.
"I had no nerves at all. The race before I was on the floor and I just wanted to get it right. This means everything. Grade 1 races don't come round every day and to get my name next to one of them has been a massive goal for me."
Twiston-Davies is due back next weekend but Nicholls knows he has another rider he can trust on the big occasion.
"Harry is a really good young jockey," he said. "I've got a lot of faith in him. This was a big occasion for him but he's chilled and did an exceptional job. It's good to give the youngsters a chance."
Six-year-old Politologue, owned by John Hales, was cut to a general 7-1 (from around 14-1) for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, having once been regarded more as a Cheltenham Gold Cup candidate.
Nicholls said: "I knew there was huge improvement coming from Exeter as he needed the run. I knew he was right today. Harry said he just cruises there and then idles in front. The faster they go the more he can get a toe into the race, the better really.
"John has always wanted him to be a Gold Cup horse and that's why we tried to make him a three-miler. I thought at Haydock and Cheltenham last year we were doing the wrong thing so we went to Aintree. He was unlucky that day, so that's why we're back to two miles.
"I suspect we'll go to Ascot now in January and then on to Cheltenham. At his age he should only get better."
Hales said: "It took a bit of time to realise he's a two-miler, not a three-miler. Now I think he'd be right up with the best.
"Obviously we have to take on Douvan and Altior, and I wish in a way they'd been here because he has to have the experience of competing against the very best."
The Champion Chase could be off Fox Norton's programme with a step up in distance now likely.
Trainer Colin Tizzard reported: "As Robbie [Power] said, he missed the first a bit and was always chasing after that. He got a bit close to the last and Paul's horse was away.
"I'd say we'll step up in trip now. Whether that's for the Ryanair or the King George is not something to think about at this minute. I don't know."
Look back on a sizzling year of racing in the new edition of the Racing Post Annual, which has 208 colour pages packed with the best stories and pictures of 2017. Order now here or call 01933 304858