Nicholls targets Altior with Politologue but warns star grey will need the run
Paul Nicholls on Thursday warned Nicky Henderson will not have everything his own way at his local track next week by committing stable star Politologue and forgotten horse Saphir Du Rheu to Newbury's star-studded meeting – but the ten-time champion trainer suggested his raiding party to Berkshire would not include the long-absent Cliffs Of Dover in the Betfair Hurdle.
Tingle Creek winner Politologue, who has also won the Haldon Gold Cup and Desert Orchird Chase this season, is in line for the Betfair Exchange Chase, which is better known as the Game Spirit.
He could clash with Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Altior in that, but Nicholls stressed the Newbury Grade 2 would not be his grey's cup final.
He said: "He'll be as ready as he was for the Haldon Gold Cup. He's done plenty but will improve for the run. You don't want them at their best – you want them to improve. He went from Exeter to the Tingle Creek and that's what I'm trying to do again."
Asked if Politologue would be primed to beat Altior, Nicholls added: "We might beat him in the Champion Chase. If you take San Benedeto from the Celebration Chase and look at the Arkle last year, it's not as cut and dried as everyone makes out.
"Politologue, if he hadn't fallen at Aintree, would have won two Grade 1s, a Haldon Gold Cup and the Desert Orchid in four runs over fences over two miles. Before then he was running over the wrong trip, but over two miles he's been awesome.
"You look at Frodon and Black Corton and some of those horses, when they are young and improving who knows where they'll end up. Just because they were 150-rated hurdlers, that's not where they are going to be over fences. He had a reputation for being a weak finisher, but that's because he didn't stay."
Politologue is set to be joined at Newbury by Saphir Du Rheu, who is pencilled in to return from a sprained fetlock in the Betfair Denman Chase next week, when there is a chance he could clash with Henderson's Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Might Bite.
"Saphir will need a run," Nicholls said. "The Gold Cup is his one and only aim. He ran so well in the Gold Cup last year but will desperately need a run. He showed last year in the Gold Cup what he is capable of and it's an open Gold Cup.
"Suppose he'd come out and run well in one of the trials, he'd be one of the fancied ones, but it's just he hasn't run for ages because he's had problems. He beat some good horses last season, and was never beaten far, so doesn't have to improve loads, especially if it is an open race."
Cliffs Of Dover is due to work with Saphir Du Rheu and others at Wincanton on Friday morning, but may not run in the Betfair Hurdle, for which he is a general 33-1.
"He's having a gallop tomorrow but doesn't want a bog," said Nicholls, whose five-year-old has been on the sidelines for more than a year.
"That's the problem. I nearly ran him on the all-weather on Saturday, but didn't want to do that. He's ready to go, I just want someone decent ground.
"All of his runs last year were on goodish ground and I'm not convinced he wants to run in a bog. More likely I'll get a run into him and run him in the County Hurdle and Scottish Champion Hurdle.
"He could even run in the Kingwell if we need to get a run into him, but there's not a suitable race where the ground will be all right. He did get a touch of leg last year, so we've got to be careful. It would be the wrong race to run him in next week I'd have thought, but we'll see."
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