Why Solo and Clan Des Obeaux could make it a fantastic Friday for Paul Nicholls
Paul Nicholls may not even have a runner at Cheltenham on the first day, such is the select nature of his festival challenge this year, but the champion trainer's hand will get stronger with each day, building towards a potentially glorious Friday headed by JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite Solo.
Nicholls, whose final-day hand could also feature dual King George VI Chase hero Clan Des Obeaux's bid for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand Annual market leader Greaneteen, spoke about Britain’s highest-rated novice in glowing terms at his pre-festival media day on Thursday.
The four-year-old earned a mark of 157 for his 13-length demolition in the Adonis Hurdle last weekend and Nicholls said: “I’d say he is a special horse already. We bought him as a chaser and always thought he’d be really good over fences. Guillaume Macaire said to us he wouldn’t win over hurdles in England as he’s just a chaser.
“We’ve been delighted with him ever since we’ve had him. He’s a big tank of a thing and he takes loads of work. At Kempton, he had that bit of a wow factor about him and we realised just what we had on our hands. He’s a beautiful horse and there’s loads for us to work on.
“I was worried Saturday going into Kempton – having won around a big galloping track like Auteuil – that the flat right-handed track might find him out a little bit, but he coped with it well. Harry Cobden said ‘wow’ and we’re hopeful he’ll go very well at Cheltenham.”
The champion trainer heads into jump racing’s showpiece meeting in sparkling form, amassing 44 winners in January and February – a tally he has topped only once when enjoying 48 successes in 2008.
Nicholls said: “We’ve got some nice horses to run in the big races. It’s not a big team, just a nice selective team. The horses are all running really well.
“I’m not even sure if I’ll have a runner on the Tuesday, so I might be watching it from the pub and enjoying it there. We’ll have the Champion Chase and Boodles [Juvenile Handicap Hurdle] on the Wednesday and then we have some really lovely runners on the Friday. The last day always tends to be our best day for some reason.”
The most high-profile of Nicholls’ Cheltenham runners is Clan Des Obeaux, a 7-1 chance for the Gold Cup. The back-to-back King George winner has had a different preparation this year, avoiding a run between Kempton and Cheltenham, which could see an improved result compared with last season's fifth.
“We’re thrilled with him and he's had a great preparation, everything’s gone right,” said Nicholls. “We’ve been able to work him really hard – which suits him – and he did a nice piece of work with Frodon on Wednesday. He’s just where we want him to be.
“I think he’s got a good chance. He’s a dual King George winner and he’s definitely a better horse this year. I’m very happy with him. It suits him to be very fit and fresh and last year he came to Cheltenham having run at Ascot, which was close enough to the festival. He’s just got to prove it at Cheltenham, because he hasn’t yet, but I think he can do that easily.”
Other noteworthy runners on the final day include Greaneteen, favourite for the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual, and Alcala, who will bid to give Nicholls a fifth win in the Foxhunter Chase. A win would make Nicholls the leading trainer in the race’s history.
The Ditcheat maestro is also adding more quality to what already looks an epic renewal of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase with Dynamite Dollars and Politologue in contention.
The pair are 33-1 outsiders in a race that features Altior, Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi but Nicholls believes his pair could be each-way contenders.
He said: "Politologue was second in last season's Champion Chase. He ran fairly ordinary in the Tingle Creek last time but we found he'd bled. He's always good fresh so, like Clan Des Obeaux, we purposely haven't run him since. He's a forgotten horse as he wasn't beaten far last year.
"Dynamite Dollars had a great season as a novice chaser last year and kept progressing before getting a leg injury. For a horse having his first run in a year I thought he ran a blinder in the Game Spirit. He's improved enormously from that run. He's a real lively outsider."
Keep up to date on the must-have news, tips, photos and more by following the Racing Post across all social channels