Paul Nicholls may have had a Cheltenham Festival to forget so far, registering no winners can you believe, but you can’t keep a good man down for long.
The Champion Trainer has had at least one winner at the Festival every season since 2002 and today, knowing how Nicholls works, will be the day he comes to the party.
His best chance of the day looks to come in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Nicholls has had four winners and seven places finishes in the Gold Cup since 1999 and is a master at preparing a horse for the test that Cheltenham provides. Silviniaco Conti is his main hope this year and at 5/1 with William Hill is looks a very backable price.
He started the season winning the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in the style of a real classy chaser. Then Nicholls’ charge landed the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park, where he comprehensively put Long Run in his pace with a stellar front running display. A repeat of that performance and we feel the rest are playing for second place.
The Triumph Hurdle is a great way to kick Gold Cup day off and following the horses at the head of the betting looks the way to go.
The market principles have won seven of the last eight and this year’s renewal looks high on quality, therefore ruling out the stragglers looks a safe way to go.
There doesn’t seem to be much between the top four in the betting this year, but we feel that trainer Nicholls will finally come to the party in this one. As previously mentioned, Nicholls has yet to have a winner this week, but his string are running to form, it’s just that he’s doesn’t possess the ammunition of previous years.
He has Far West (5/1 William Hill) in the four-year-old feature here and we feel the horse has the ability to pick up two fellow market leaders Rolling Star, trained by Nicky Henderson, and Our Conor, who is Ireland’s big juvenile hope.
Nicholls has been very bullish regarding the ability of this horse and on the track he has done nothing wrong. Two gutsy wins at Cheltenham, where he showed great staying power, but were backed up with a speedy success at Ascot where he went up against his elders. Far West looks to have the lot.
The Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle will give punters a good guide to how the ground is riding for the Gold Cup. But more importantly, we feel that African Gold at 13/2 with Paddy Power has the credential to bang in another winner for the Nigel Twiston-Davies team.
The five-year-old stayer looked a fine prospect when disposing of Close Touch at Doncaster in February, and his chances have been significantly boosted by the form of the second Close Touch, who ran out the easiest winner of a competitive handicap you will ever see at Sandown last weekend.
The Twiston-Davies team have also put to bed thoughts that their yard may be suffering with a virus by racking up two winners already this week, including the impressive Neptune winner The New One.
Trainer Emma Lavelle is enduring a bit of a tough time at the minute with her horses and hasn’t register a winner in 2013, but Claret Cloak could finally get his ideal race conditions today in the County Hurdle. If the rain stays away and the ground is on the good side of soft, this is a horse that still looks well handicapped on early season form.
The 135-rated runner finished a good third in a Listed Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last year and has been laid out for this race after being withdrawn from the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday. At 20/1 with Paddy Power he’s good enough to run into a place at least.